BUTLER _ It wasn't the outcome Butler wanted certainly not after overcoming an eight-point halftime deficit to gain a fourth-quarter lead.
Still, Bulldogs coach Kim Wilson couldn't fault her team which has played an abundance of determined and focused minutes this season.
Butler sought to deter North Warren standout Kelly Vuz and, for the most part, succeeded. Vuz, however, took charge in the final 2:40 of the North Jersey Section 1, Group I opening-round game on Tuesday, Feb. 28, netting the last six points, including the 1,000th of her career, to boost the 10th-seeded Patriots over the seventh-seeded Bulldogs, 39-34.
"Not scoring in the early part of the game was a big issue," Wilson said. "It's tough to play catchup. Our girls dug deep but it just didn't go our way. These girls work hard all the time. They have such heart and dedication. I feel bad it didn't go the other way. It was a good year. A great group of kids."
After a 15-point third quarter in which Sammy Flinn had six of her team-high 16 points and Amber VanderGoot had four, Butler kept pushing and held a 34-33 edge with three minutes remaining. There were errant shots on both sides until Vuz, especially dangerous when driving to the basket, dropped in a layup to put North Warren on top, 35-34, with 2:40 left.
VanderGoot picked off an inbounds pass under North Warren's basket with 1:32 remaining. It was an exceptional play and could have been pivotal. Butler, though, raced upcourt and its field goal attempt missed. The ball wound up in the hands of Vuz, who drove and was fouled. The first of her free throws at 1:06 enabled her to achieve the milestone. She made the second, too, and put the Patriots in front, 37-34.
On their next possession, the Bulldogs (13-12) put up a 3-pointer but it missed its mark. Then it was Vuz again as she made her way inside for another layup to complete her 22-point effort.
"I think we all got scared to lose and didn't play as well as we usually do," said Flinn, a senior guard.
In the first quarter, Butler, which enjoyed a six-game winning streak in mid-January and early February, totaled just five points - all by VanderGoot - and Flinn was not heard from. She attributed that to pre-game anxiety.
"I was just nervous and fell apart a little," Flinn said. "It was jitters, I guess. Then I was fine."
Flinn, also responsible for grabbing seven rebounds and handing out three assists, righted herself and netted all eight of the Bulldogs' points in the second period, including two 3-pointers, and six in the third quarter to spearhead the comeback.
VanderGoot had a solid all-around game, ending with nine points, seven rebounds and three steals and two assists. Sam Beck added six points, six rebounds and made three blocks. Melissa Konopinski did well guarding Vuz holding her to two baskets in the first half. In addition, Konopinski had five blocks and four assists.
"Amber does everything you ask her to do," Wilson said. "She's consistent. Just a great kid. She's the type you dream about coaching. Actually, they all are."
VanderGoot, one of four seniors, was asked to play in the middle for the first time this winter and grew into her new role.
"Amber did well there," Flinn said. "She plays like a big girl. She's definitely one of our most improved."
Flinn, VanderGoot, Megan Dranow and Tara Havrilla are Butler's four seniors.
"This was one of our best seasons," Flinn said. 'We played well as a team and worked hard every day. Our coach pushed us and motivated us. Coach Wilson is a really positive person."
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