The Hillsborough High School girls’ basketball team made epic strides during the 2019-2020 season.
Winning just two games four years ago, the Raiders rose up to become a state sectional finalist this winter.
And in doing so, Hillsborough posted a final record of 19-10.
Starting as the No. 7 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 bracket, Hillsborough earned a hard-fought 53-45 victory in the first round of the state tournament on March 3 over Howell High School.
Coming up short in the sectional quarterfinals the last two years, the Raiders needed an upset over the No. 2 seed, Monroe Township High School, which recorded 23 victories on the season to reach the semifinals.
Hillsborough finally got over the hump on March 5 when it erased a three-point deficit entering the fourth quarter to pull off a 45-41 upset victory over the host Falcons.
The upsets weren’t done for the Raiders.
Hillsborough next met up against the defending state sectional champion, sixth-seeded Middletown High School South in the semifinals on March 7.
Hillsborough got off to a 15-7 lead to begin the contest and didn’t look back, storming out to a 28-15 advantage going into the halftime.
Middletown South mounted a comeback in the second half and trimmed the Raiders’ lead to 43-39 with 1:26 to play.
Thanks to clutch free-throw shooting by Elissa Nsenkyire, Hillsborough was able to hold off Middletown South for a 49-44 victory and a spot in the state sectional final.
Nsenkyire finished with a team-high 18 points in the victory over Middletown South. The senior was the team’s second leading scorer during the season, averaging over 11 points a contest.
Senior Dani Pescatore was Hillsborough’s top scorer, scoring almost 12 points a game.
Hillsborough’s magical season came to a close in the Central Jersey, Group 4 state final on March 9 against fourth-seeded Montgomery High School in Montgomery.
Suffering a tough 63-54 loss to Montgomery in the second round of the Somerset County Tournament on Feb. 22, Hillsborough came out of the sectional final looking for payback and got out to a 27-17 lead midway through the second quarter against its neighboring rival.
What transpired next though in the contest was not what the Raiders wanted to see.
Montgomery went on a 15-0 run in the next four minutes, knocking down three shots from behind the arc in the process.
Pescatore was able to give Hillsborough a little boost going into the half by knocking in a buzzer beater three-pointer to cut the Montgomery lead to 32-24 at the half.
The Raiders were able to pull within four points going into the fourth quarter, but a 6-0 run by Montgomery to start the quarter put Hillsborough down 10 and in too big of hole to bounce back from with one quarter of play.
Montgomery would go on to post a 71-58 victory to capture its second state sectional title, ending Hillsborough’s cinderella run in the tournament.
Nsenkyire scored a team-high 18 points in the contest. Pescatore finished with 15 points in the season-ending loss.
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports