ROCKAWAY _ Hanover Park's accuracy from outside the arc in the first quarter left Morristown's Elizabeth Strambi quite unsettled.
Strambi didn't anticipate trailing 6-0 so quickly as the Hornets opened the scoring by netting back-to-back 3-pointers nor did she figure on the Colonials wilting against the press.
"They scored big in the first quarter," Strambi said. "It was pretty crazy.We practiced against the press but didn't do what we practiced."
It turned out that major panic didn't evolve from the stressful scenario. Slowly but surely, the Colonials began thriving with their man-to-man defense and gained the lead, 17-15, with 4.8 seconds remaining before halftime and went on to post a 33-25 victory over the Hornets in the final of the Morris Hills Holiday Tournament on Thursday, Dec. 29.
"We listened to our coach (Jim Pisciotto) at halftime and he led us," said Strambi, named the MVP. "He calmed us down. He reminded us that we knew their zone. In the second half, we scored and got a stop. Scored and got a stop. We never gave up. We told each other we could do it. We stayed together."
Kayla Bush had the go-ahead basket for Morristown just before halftime, coming up with ball after a pileup on the floor and converting from close range. Bush's field goal capped a 10-4 second-quarter showing for the Colonials, who continued to expand their advantage in the second half.
However, Hanover Park never allowed Morristown (5-0) to become too comfortable. The largest lead the Colonials had prior to their margin of victory was seven points and that was attained 26 seconds into the closing period.
"Hanover Park is a great team. They're scrappy," Pisciotto said. "They like to shoot the 3 and we had an advantage inside. Their guards are in your face. Hanover Park had 3s at the beginning and we played from behind. At halftime, we talked about having more poise and patience. We got to the basket and drove. Making free throws would have let us breathe easier. Everything starts with defense and our kids showed grit with our man to man."
The absence of Meghan Macaluso, who injured her knee, hurt the Hornets. Macaluso is Hanover Park's leading rebounder and she was certainly missed.
"Without Meghan, our kids really stepped up," Hornets coach Doug Wear said. "We went with four guards and that didn't aid our rebounding but it helped with the pressure. Morristown's guards are excellent. If you get past them, you run into some 6 footers. Their pressure was too much. We had in the area of 18 turnovers, I think. We hit those shots early then went cold."
The Colonials, buoyed by Strambi's 11 points and seven rebounds, were down 13-7 when they commenced a seven-point run in the second quarter to pull in front. Alexa Bursese's basket from short range put the Hornets in charge, 15-14, with 1:47 left before halftime. The last three points of the second quarter were scored by Morristown as were the first three of the third period.
Ava Gammo fired in a 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:46 remaining in the fourth quarter to pull Hanover Park within four, 27-23. A foul shot by Strambi and a field goal by Kimberly Calloway (6 points) ensued and boosted the Colonials' edge back to seven points.
The Hornets' Emily Seymour (6 rebounds) was assigned to Morristown's Kayla Bush (11 rebounds) over the last eight minutes. Seymour zoned in on Bush, keeping her from any offensive opportunities.
"If she went up to screen, I helped off of her," Seymour said. "We couldn't allow lobs. She screened a lot. I think we gave Morristown a run for the money even though we made some mistakes."
"Emily is physical. What she does you don't see in a boxscore," Wear said. "She went up against a player who is 6 feet. Emily's maybe 5 foot 7."
Tara O'Neill, a freshman, contributed seven points and seven rebounds for the Colonials, who defeated Morris Hills, 67-35, in the opening round. Gammo and Alexa Petrozzino had seven points apiece for Hanover Park.
Strambi was glad to escape with a win.
"I'll take it," she said. "It felt way closer than eight points. Hanover Park is great. We had to overcome a lot. We had to relax and wait for our best shots. We needed to have one more pass."
Selected to the all-tournament team were Seymour, Calloway of Morristown, Gammo of Hanover Park, Julia Catalano of Morris Hills and Sarah Olivero of Roxbury.