RANDOLPH _ Elizabeth Strambi, anticipating Morristown's appearance in the Morris County Girls Basketball Tournament final, found it difficult to focus on her schoolwork all week.
By Friday, Feb. 24, the day of the Colonials' matchup with Jefferson for the title, Strambi, a junior guard, had only one thought in her mind - winning. She recalled taking a quiz in environmental science and plodding through.
"I couldn't function. I was too excited," said Strambi, who was later named MVP for her exceptional effort after top-seeded Morristown raced past No. 2 Jefferson, 47-23, at The County College of Morris. "School was hard all week. A few days ago, we had to win to take the conference championship. I am super happy. This is an honor."
The MCT championship was the first for the Colonials since 1980. They reached the final most recently in 2016, falling to Morris Catholic. So, when the buzzer sounded signaling the conclusion of the game, the players, coaches and fans were joyous.
For Morristown coach Jim Pisciotto, denied as a player, coming out on top was the ultimate thrill. In 1980, Pisciotto was a member of the Colonials boys squad that dropped a heartbreaker to West Morris in double overtime.
"This is just fantastic," Pisciotto said. "This group has unbelievable chemistry."
He said he was shocked by the outcome and the fact that Morristown, courtesy of a stifling press, was able to race out to a 17-0 lead.
"I can't believe it because Jefferson is really, really good," he added. "Our girls came out loose. You can be here every year and it's never the same. Don't forget. These are 16 and 17 year old kids."
Strambi (15 points) stood out throughout, especially during the unanswered burst that started off the game. Freshman Tara O'Neil dropped in a layup one minute into the first period. Strambi had a field goal followed by a 3-pointer by Kimberley Calloway. The run continued and Strambi capped it with five consecutive points. The Falcons got their first points on a basket by their star, Taylor Langan, with 53 seconds remaining. Strambi connected at the buzzer, putting the Colonials in front, 19-2.
"Going up 17-0 is huge in a big game like this," Pisciotto said. "It put pressure on them. Would they press with one of the best guards in the county? It gave us some breathing room. It comes down to defense and hard work. We keep coming at you."
Coming into the game, Morristown (22-2) was worried about Jefferson's ability to convert from outside the arc. On Feb. 2, the Falcons accumulated eight 3-pointers. That threat never materialized as Jefferson was successful only once from outside 19 feet, 9 inches.
The Colonials kept building on their advantage in the second quarter, outscoring Jefferson 10-7 for a 29-9 halftime lead.
"Scoring the first 17 points was unreal," Strambi said. "We didn't even think about it. We have a great team with great players. We just keep going. We always play like it's 0-0."
It took the Falcons awhile to attain double figures. A Langan free throw 57 seconds after the break left Jefferson trailing, 31-10.
Kayla Bush had 11 points for Morristown while O'Neil contributed nine. Also chosen to the all-tournament team were Langan, Hanover Park's Ava Gammo, Chatham's Veronica Kelly, Calloway of Morristown and Jefferson's Victoria Pietraszkiewicz.
Following the MCT final, Strambi and Langan, well acquainted, met at midcourt and posed for photos. A bit later, music blared from the Colonials locker room. The celebration was to be continued at Nicole Ferrara's house.
"This is amazing," Bush said. "It was one of our goals. We set our minds to it. We were a little nervous at the beginning. Elizabeth led us. Then we just kept playing defense. It made us comfortable doing what we do best."
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