Redbirds coming together heading into homestretch of campaign

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STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
Allentown High School girls basketball player Caitlin Landgraf dribbles the ball up the court and knocks in a layup during a game against West Windsor-Plainsboro South on Jan. 21 in West Windsor. Landgraf scored 12 points to help Allentown defeat West Windsor-Plainsboro South 58-25.

The Allentown High School girls basketball team has seen its fair share of ups and downs so far during the 2021-22 campaign.

The Redbirds carried a 5-5 record into a Jan. 24 game against Freehold Township High School and Coach Dana Wells and her players were in agreement that the team’s best basketball is still in front of them.

“I think we can be a dark horse and come out strong during the latter part of the season when things matter the most,” Wells said. “This group of young ladies is the true definition of a team. We have had to play through this season missing some starters at times. It has given other players opportunities to gain valuable experience and to gain confidence out there.”

Allentown began the season with three wins in its first five games before losing consecutive contests to Hightstown and Colts Neck to fall to 3-4.

The Redbirds were able to steer the ship back in the right direction with a 46-24 victory over Hopewell Valley on Jan. 18 and a 58-25 road win over West Windsor-Plainsboro South on Jan. 21.

Against West Windsor-Plainsboro South, senior Emily Pellegrino scored 17 points and could not be stopped from three-point range in the third quarter, when she connected on four of the five three-point field goals she made in the contest.

Pelligrino drained two three-point field goals to start the third quarter as Allentown extended its lead over the Pirates to 44-18.

In fact, Pellegrino scored all 14 of Allentown’s points in the third quarter, ending the frame with a buzzer-beating three-pointer from the wing to give the Redbirds a 50-23 lead.

“It felt really good,” Pellegrino said of her performance. “In the first half I wasn’t shooting well and got a little discouraged. I was able to calm down in the (third quarter) and find my form again and shot the ball great. It felt really amazing.”

The Redbirds made eight three-point field goals in the victory over the Pirates as they scored a season-high 58 points.

Junior Caitlin Landgraf played a strong all-around game and finished with 12 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. The junior forward is averaging 9.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in her first full season in the starting lineup. She leads the team with 14 blocked shots.

“Getting to know my guards has really helped because they know where to place the ball where I want it, so I can go right up to the hoop,” said Landgraf.

Landgraf and freshman Molly McCrea have been a strong one-two punch for Allentown in the frontcourt.

McCrea is averaging just over 11 points per game and has contributed 19 assists. She had six points, four assists and six rebounds against the Pirates.

“We have been playing down low together since middle school and we have a great connection off the court as well,” Landgraf said of herself and McCrea. “That helps us out a lot.”

Sophomore Chloe Conti scored six points and added six assists and three steals in the victory over the Pirates.

Allentown played Toms River East High School on Jan. 22 in the Slam Dunk for Autism Challenge at Middletown North High School in Middletown.

The Redbirds led 12-9 after one quarter, but Toms River East roared back to earn a 52-39 victory. Senior Brianna Schweitzer led Allentown with 13 points.

Schweitzer leads the Redbirds with 20 three-point field goals this season.

At the midway point of the season, the homestretch toward the Mercer County Tournament and the state sectional tournament is underway for the Redbirds.

The team is expected to get a boost with junior Kayla McCrea returning to the starting lineup after missing five games due to injury.

In five games played, McCrea is averaging more than 10 points per game. She has contributed 20 steals on the defensive end of the floor.

Having McCrea and Schweitzer back together to lead the team in the backcourt will be a big factor as the Redbirds set their sights on the postseason.

“Once we have all our girls back, we will be in full go and be ready for the postseason,” Schweitzer said. “I think it will be a great season once we have everyone back together again.”