Tuesday, March 7, 2017
By Rich Barton
NJS.com Staff Writer
Michelle Sidor scored 40 points, yes 40, for defending champion Saddle River Day, which got back to the Non-Public North B final with a 70-60 win over Marist on Monday in Saddle River.
SADDLE RIVER – Saddle River Day’s Michelle Sidor has solidified herself as one of, if not the, premier scoring threat in New Jersey. The sophomore sensation has torched both in and out-of-state opponents ever since she stepped into the starting lineup in the first game of her freshman year. But as the Rebels go deeper into the state tournament, Sidor faces a tougher defender with each passing round. Facing a hungry Marist team still steaming from its lone loss of the season to Secaucus in the Hudson County Tournament final, Sidor knew she would have to raise her level of play when squaring off against one of North Jersey’s most physically gifted players, Marist junior Breyanna Frazier.
After a quick start, Sidor hit a rough patch before finding her rhythm again. She stayed hot for the remainder of the game before relying on her teammates down the stretch to make big plays.
Sidor nailed eight 8-pointers on her way to a game-high 40 points. However, it was not until a layup by Jayden Lafontant and a 3-point play by Cassy Cruz that second-seeded Saddle River Day finally put away the pesky No. 3 seed, 70-60, in the Non-Public B North semifinal at the Saddle River Day School.
“We talked about focus, effort, and composure and how that would carry us through,” said Saddle River Day head coach Danny Brown. “Marist has two of the best driving guards that we’ve seen this year on the court at the same time. As the game went on I thought we started running through our sets better and we got better shots as a result.”
The Rebels wasted no time taking an early with two Sidor threes on the way to 10-2 start. Marist was unfazed and grinded its way back in the game. Zanai Venable answered with a pair of 3-pointers and a driving layup by Frazier gave the Royal Knights an 18-14 lead three minutes into the second quarter.
Breyanna Frazier finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds for Marist.
Saddle River Day struggled to get any offense going so it turned to its defense to help create transition opportunities. Freshman Jayden Lafontant gave the Rebels an instant spark off the bench. Three straight turnovers all led to baskets and the Rebels were back to playing at their pace. Sidor was the beneficiary on the offensive end of the floor. Her buzzer-beating layup were her 13th and 14th points in a 20-5 run to end the half with Saddle River Day taking a 32-23 halftime lead.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game and we had to keep out energy up,” said Sidor. “We just kept playing hard and tried to get them in foul trouble. Getting some turnovers and easy baskets helped us settle down and get comfortable.”
With their season on the brink of extinction, the Royal Knights refused to go down without a fight. Emely Rosario banked in consecutive 3-pointers and Frazier converted a conventional 3-point play to trim the lead to three at the end of the third quarter, 49-46.
Marist had all the momentum heading into the fourth quarter and stayed within three until Lafontant scored inside and Cassy Cruz made an acrobatic layup while getting fouled. She hit the free throw to give the Rebels some breathing room, 61-54. Marist finally ran out of time with Jenna Jordan using a nice spin move in the paint to finish with the left hand and seal up a second straight berth in the Non-Public B North final for the defending champs.
Cassie Cruz and Saddle River Day will play Queen of Peace in the section final of the second straight year.
“We had to stop their drives and get a little physical with their cutters,” said Lafontant. “I think we’re pretty confident that we could score. To win games like this though you have to get stops on ‘D’ and we communicated really well in the fourth quarter.”
Sidor finished 8 of 14 from beyond the 3-point arc for her second 40-plus point game (she had 45 in a first-round win over Newark Academy) of the this year’s state tournament for Saddle River Day (24-6). Jordan had another double-double with 13 points and 15 rebounds. Lafontant also pulled down 15 boards with Cruz chipping in with nine points and seven rebounds.
Frazier led four Marist (25-2) players in double-figures with 20 points along with eight rebounds, four steals, and three assists. Rosario, Venable, and Alyssa Gomez added 11 points a piece.
Saddle River Day will face off against fourth-seeded Queen of Peace, who used a fourth-quarter comeback to knock out top-seeded Immaculate Conception in the other semifinal, 41-36. It will be a rematch of last year’s classic Non-Public B North won by Saddle River Day, 66-63. The challenge for the Rebels will be keeping their composure, especially with some younger players playing in a state championship game for the first time. The Non-Public B North final will be played on Wednesday at Kennedy High School with a scheduled 7:00 P.M. tip-off in Paterson.
“We’re really excited to be playing in the final but we have to stay focused on our task just like Coach (Brown) says,” added Lafontant. “It’s going to come down to effort, execution, and basketball IQ. Whoever we get we’re going to play like we do every other game and come out with the trophy at the end.”