Wednesday, March 8, 2017
By Cory K. Doviak
NJS.com Editorial Director
Brianna Smith scored 11 points for Pascack Valley, which avenged its only loss of the season and won the North 1, Group 3 state sectional title with a 70-42 victory over NV/Old Tappan.
HILLSDALE – Even though Pascack Valley wound up scoring a lot of points in a comfortable victory, there was a moment there near the end of the first quarter and early in the second when everything was not so rosy. The Indians’ only loss of the season to date came against the very opponent its was facing on Tuesday in the North 1, Group 3 state sectional final in the very same gym and Northern Valley/Old Tappan was up to its same old tricks.
A driving layup by senior point guard Skylar Raegan had Old Tappan within two points with 1:12 left in the opening quarter, close enough to think that the Golden Knights might be able to drag the top seed into the deep water of a back-and-forth battle that either team might be able to win in the later going.
That thinking was put to rest in the next four minutes of game time. A Brianna Smith 3-pointer and a Kelly Smith bucket off a Kelly Petro assist just before the first quarter horn gave Pascack Valley the separation it craved and then a 6-0 second quarter run made it stick as the Indians took the their first double-digit lead on a Shannon Culloo bucket 3:07 in the second quarter. Pascack Valley never looked back as it avenged its only loss of the season and won its first state sectional title since 2010 in the process with a 70-42 victory over Old Tappan in Hillsdale.
“We came out more mentally prepared then we have ever been. We had to be willing to push ourselves and bring energy to every play in order to keep the lead and continue to build on it,” said Culloo, the only senior in Pascack Valley’s starting five. “You want to say that you bring the same intensity no matter who you play, but that would be a lie in this case. As much as you want to say that, knowing that we could avenge the loss that we had earlier in the year, it just motivated us to bring more heart than we have all season.”
Sophomore Noelle Gonzalez led Old Tappan with 19 points.
Pascack Valley was the No. 2 seed in the Bergen County Tournament when it lost to Old Tappan in the Round of 16 in a game where the Indians were drawn into slower pace. That game finished with a final score of 43-41 while in the rematch, Pascack Valley piled up 32 points by halftime and led by 18.
“[Old Tappan’s] Brian [Dunn] is a great coach and a great teacher of the game, so that last game when we lost he taught us a good lesson. He taught us some really important things,” said Pascack Valley head coach Jeff Jasper. “Yes it was painful for the days that followed, but we didn’t forget what we learned then. It just happened that we happened to be playing them again today. It wouldn’t have mattered if it was Old Tappan. That certainly ratcheted it up, but we had learned the lessons of that game so that each of the games that we have played since then has taken us to a different level.”
PV was certainly on a different level on Tuesday as used its varied and diverse set of offensive options to take control early. Old Tappan’s only leads were at 3-0 after a game-opening 3-pointer by Skylar Raegan and at 6-4 after Noelle Gonzalez’s 3-point play 1:23 in. Culloo’s jumper from the short corner tied the game for the final time 57 seconds later and it was pretty much all PV after that.
Creating transition through defensive rebounds and live-ball turnovers, the Indians were running with the ball in space and deferring to the open shooters and cutters. Five different Indians scored in the first quarter and six scored in the second period as they cracked the game open. Toriana Tabasco’s 3-pointer with 2:35 left in the second kicked off a 9-2 half-closing run that took PV from up 11 to the 32-14 lead at the break.
Shannon Culloo, the only senior in PV's starting five, scored six points in the first half as the Indians pulled away.
“We just had a hard time keeping up with their guard play and their No. 5 [Brianna Wong] had a tremendous game. We had a hard time keeping up. We turned the ball over too many times and that is where transition becomes an issue,” said Dunn. “That is where they are deadly; in transition and out in space. They have too many shooters and kids that can get to the rim for us to keep up with in the open floor.”
Old Tappan never got closer than 13 points in the second half and never held PV to less than 15 points in any of the four quarters.
“We know from the first time we played them that we had to force them to play our game and not let them slow us down,” said Wong. “It was really important for me and for our whole team to show them that that game [in the Bergen County Tournament] wasn’t us and to show that one loss doesn’t define us.”
Old Tappan (16-14) had a roller coaster ride of a season as it replaced its whole starting lineup from last year’s Group 3 state championship team. The Knights started slow before pulling one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Bergen County Tournament and pulling off three straight wins on the road to reach the section final. Their 11-game state sectional tournament winning streak is now over, but they will return all but one player next year and should have a healthy Alexandra George, the junior center who missed this season with a knee injury.
Sophomores Noelle Gonzalez (19 points) and Jackie Kelly (10 points) led the Knights in scoring on Tuesday and they will both be back for two more varsity seasons. Raegan finished with 7 points in her final varsity game, junior Sophie Downey had two fourth quarter field goals and Erin Harnisch, another sophomore, scored the other two points for Old Tappan.
Wong led all scorers with 24 points and Brianna Smith had 11 as part of the Indians’ balanced attack. Tabasco (8 points) made two 3-pointers, Petro and Kelly Smith each added 7, Culloo scored all 6 of her points in the first half as PV pulled away and Nicole Arden, Danielle Miller and Kayleigh Basovsky all got in the scorebook for the Indians, who are now the 28-1 heading in the Group 3 state semifinals.
“When you have good energy and good players knocking down shots, it makes any coach look like he knows what he is doing. It could have been a Weekend At Bernie’s here coaching and they would have done fine,” said Jasper. “I am just really happy where we are right now. I am just going off and do what I do and then figure out who we play next."