2008-02-27 / Sports

Colts Neck captures first Shore Conference crown

BY TIM MORRIS and DOUG McKENZIE Staff Writers

If not for a timely steal by Tiffany De- Tulio, the Colts Neck High School Cougars may not have been in Saturday's Shore Conference Tournament girls basketball final in the first place.

ERIC SUCAR staff Colts Neck High School's Brooke Hampton tries to get a shot off over Red Bank Catholic defender Kristina Danella during the second half of the Shore Conference Tournament title game at the Ritacco Center, Toms River, on Feb. 23. Colts Neck won 66-53. ERIC SUCAR staff Colts Neck High School's Brooke Hampton tries to get a shot off over Red Bank Catholic defender Kristina Danella during the second half of the Shore Conference Tournament title game at the Ritacco Center, Toms River, on Feb. 23. Colts Neck won 66-53. In a memorial semifinal that matched two teams that were too stubborn to give in and too proud to lose, the Cougars won a triple-overtime marathon, 55-47, over Rumson-FairHaven RegionalHigh School.

"It was unbelievable," Cougars' Coach John Truhan said after the exhausting victory. "It was an honor to coach in it. Rumson never quits. We had to keep fighting. We knew it would be a battle."

Both teams had chances to win the semifinal, but it was the Cougars who finally got over the hump in the third overtime.

Four straight points from DeTulio opened a 51-47 lead with 1:32 left in the third OT. It was the first time in the overtimes that either team had a two-possession lead. When Brooke Hampton made a steal that led to her breakaway layup, she put the game on ice. Lauren Clarke sealed the win with a pair of free throws with :24 left.A

Rumson comeback in the fourth quarter set the stage for the overtime dramatics. Trailing 32-37, the Bulldogs' Kara Abbott scored five straight points (including a three-point FG fromthe corner) to tie the game at 32-32.

Emily Laurence put the Cougars ahead 34-32 with a short jump shot.

Candice Green, who came up big all night for the Bulldogs, nailed a three-point FG from the top of the key with 1:43 remaining and Rumson had its first lead of the fourth quarter, 35-34.

But back came the Cougars; Hampton went strong to the basket and when the defense enveloped her, she passed to an open Brittany Howes who put it home and got fouled. Howes completed the three-point play and the Cougars were up 37-35 with 1:10 left.

Green did the same thing on the Rumson end, driving to the basket and dishing off to Gabbie DePaolo for an easy basket to tie the game at 37-37 and force OT.

Howes put the Cougars up 39-37 in overtime off a feed from Hampton. Green tied it with two free throws.

Hampton put the Cougars up 41-39 but a pair of free throws with :30 left by Kate Miller sent the game to a second overtime.

Colts Neck had been playing with the lead in the overtimes, but that changed when Miller hit a three-point FG from the corner to put Rumson ahead 44-41.

Clarke sank two free throws to pull the Cougars within one, 44-43, but it was Rumson which had the ball and the lead with 1:30 remaining in the second OT.

Rather than turn the game into a foulshooting contest, Truhan had his teamplay defense.

With time winding down to the point where the Cougars would have to foul, De- Tuliomade her game-saving play when she picked off a cross-court pass byMiller with :22 left in the OT.

"I jumped as high as I could," she said. "I knew she [Miller] had to throw it high to avoid hitting the basket."

DeTulio gave the Cougars life and Hampton kept it going by sinking one of two free throws with :02 left to tie the score at 44-44 and force a third overtime.

"We knew we needed to end it," DeTulio said of her team's approach to the third overtime period.

The Cougars finally did that in the third extra session and it was on to the Shore Conference Tournament (SCT) final.

Playing in their first SCT championship game, the players knew what they needed to do to beat the two-time defending champions fromRed Bank Catholic High School.

And despite the overall youth of a team that features six sophomores and just two seniors, the Cougars executed their game plan perfectly to win the school's first SCT title, 66-53, on Saturday at the Ritacco Center in Toms River.

By pushing the tempo and shooting the ball well throughout the contest (particularly early), Colts Neck was able to build an early lead and hold it the entire way, led by the team's dynamic sophomore backcourt of Hampton and Clarke.

Hampton led the way with 26 points and six assists and seemed to come up with a big basket whenever the Caseys made a run. Clarke consistently hurt RBC with her ability to get to the basket, adding 20 points for the Cougars.

With Hampton and Clarke pushing the tempo throughout the game, Colts Neck took advantage of the Caseys' inexperience in the backcourt.

"We felt that the fast play was in our favor," said Truhan, whose team became the first public school to win the SCT since Neptune in 1989. "We wanted it to be a north-to-south game because if it was eastto west it would have slowed the game down and (Kristina) Danella would have taken over. And you see how good she is. We just tried to spread the floor, limit the turnovers and attack the basket."

While Danella was her usual brilliant self, scoring a game high 29 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, it wasn't enough as the Caseys struggled to find another scoring option with the Cougars keying on her from the tip-off.

"We knew that we had to work hard to help out on her defensively,"Hampton said. "We tried to double- and triple-team her every chance we got. We couldn't let her beat us. We had to really run them. We knew they were big inside and if they slowed us down they would beat us with their inside game."

Colts Neck came out on fire, building a 20-13 lead after the first quarter keyed by a late 9-0 run. The fast start set the tone for the entire game and affirmed that the Cougars were in control of their own destiny.

"It was definitely a big confidence boost to come out like that," Clarke said. "It was great to find our rhythm early on."

With Brittany Howes and Crystal Butler working hard to contain Danella, Colts Neck held RBC's junior center to three points in the first quarter, all from the foul line. However, Danella began to turn it on late in the second quarter, scoring five quick points to get her team within 30-26 going into the halftime break.

"I thought in the first half Kristina might have been rushing her shots a little bit," RBC Coach Joe Montano said. "She was just trying so hard to get three-point plays. I told her to just put the ball in the basket and I thought she did a great job in the second half of letting the game come to her."

"I was dribbling too much and thinking too much," Danella said. "Coach just told me to slow down and play my game."

Once the third quarter started, the Hampton-led Cougars came out red hot once again, pushing the lead up to 45-35 when the brilliant point guard hit a jumper in the lane at the buzzer.

Up 10 points going into the fourth quarter and hitting asmany shots as they were, the Cougars were in control with just a quarter to play.

With Danella doing her part to keep her team in the game - mostly by making 14 trips to the free throw line, where she spent most of her time throughout the Caseys' SCT run - RBC stayed within striking distance early in the fourth quarter, only to run out of steam in the final moments.

Colts Neck consistently beat RBC with penetration and was able to hit the open shots when the defense collapsed.

"They made a lot of shots tonight and they were wide open shots," Danella said. "We knew they were a bunch of really good shooters whichmade thema hardmatchup for us because we're a little inexperienced, especially with our guards."

"They made a lot of shots," Montano added. "Their two guards are obviously very, very good players. They beat us off the dribble and they made their shots. I think they played their very best and it was too much for us."

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