MORRISTOWN _ Everything had to come together perfectly in order for Morristown-Beard to topple Pennington in the Prep B championship game.
Crimson coach Mike Sturgeon estimated it'd take 10-12 field goals from outside the arc to stay close. They'd also have a task of paramount proportions - containing the Johnson sisters inside.
Morristown-Beard was unable to meet either of those requirements fully and was defeated 39-26 in the final on Wednesday, Feb. 15.
Not only did the Johnsons, Ayanna and Leah, rule inside, specifically on the boards, but Carly Rice's 7-of-8 showing at the free throw line in the fourth quarter sealed the victory.
"Their girls inside are some of the best rebounders in the state," Crimson coach Mike Sturgeon said. "One is just so tall at 6 foot 3 and the other can jump out of the gym. We knew it would be tough. We wanted to get low and move them."
The only player to connect from the perimeter with frequency for third-seeded Morristown-Beard was sophomore point guard Bridget Monaghan, who had five 3-pointers and finished with 19 points.
"Some of our girls were trigger shy and looked for Bridget to do everything," Sturgeon said. "We couldn't take the ball right at them because they're good shot blockers so... What are you going to do? That's youth. We're still a very young team."
Ayanna Johnson, a junior, took down 20 rebounds for fourth-seeded Pennington (11-12). Leah, a sophomore, grabbed 17 rebounds. The unstoppable sisters also had seven points and four blocks apiece.
"We had our tallest players against their tallest players and it wasn't working," Monaghan said. "We doubled down in the second half. Boxing out was a big issue."
The Red Raiders held a one-point lead, 13-12, with 3:20 remaining in the second quarter. Pennington then bridged the second and third periods with a 15-point run. The burst was highlighted by five points by Leah Johnson and four by Ayanna Johnson.
Facing a 16-point deficit did not bother the Crimson, however. They've been down before, most recently by 17 points versus Montclair Kimberley in a Prep B semifinal, before triumphing 43-42 in overtime. Morristown-Beard (13-10) managed to pull within seven points 1:30 into the fourth quarter. The Red Raiders, paced by Rice, a junior guard, netted 9-of-10 free throws in the closing period to ensure the victory.
"Free throws are one of the things I think I'm best at," said Rice (15 points). "We practice them every day as a team and I shoot at the school for an hour or so on weekends. I feel pretty comfortable at the foul line."
The title was especially sweet for Rice, who did not play in a game until the middle of January because of a back injury. Rice was not the only Pennington player sidelined this season. The team was plagued by illness and injuries and got off to a bit of a slow start, going 4-5 over their first nine games.
"It's been pretty rough," Rice said. "To win this is amazing."
Morristown-Beard, which hoisted the Prep B trophy in 2015 after defeating Pennington, did not quit and that pleased Sturgeon.
"I just love this team," he said. "These girls just hate losing so the score never matters to them. Few of these girls were here two years ago. All they wanted to do was go out and get it."
Monaghan said their intense desire comes from supporting one another.
"We pump each other up," Monaghan said. "If we're down, we say 'It's OK. Don't worry.' We focus on the next play. At practice, we do a lot of different scenarios where we're down. We just never stop playing."
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