Mahwah wins BIT title in two overtime thriller

Marissa LaVerghetta scored four points in the decisive second overtime to push Mahwah past Park Ridge, 40-33, in the Bergen Invitational Tournament final..

PARK RIDGE – As she final buzzer sounded to end regulation, Mahwah’s Marissa LaVerghetta was going through a wide range of emotions. Playing in the Bergen County Invitational Tournament final against a stingy Park Ridge team playing on its home floor, LaVerghetta scored on a layup to tie the game with 4.5 seconds remaining. However, she was fouled on the play and missed the potential game-winning free throw attempt.

The teams needed two overtime periods to decide a champion and the intensity cranked up with each possession. In the second overtime, LaVerghetta stayed poised under pressure. More importantly, she deviated from her normal old school, pass-first point guard mentality and became more aggressive.

After attempting just three shots through the first 37 minutes, LaVerghetta scored four points in the second overtime. That was enough as Mahwah held Park Ridge scoreless during the second extra session to win the program’s first-ever B.I.T. crown with a 40-33 triumph on Friday night in Park Ridge.

Mahwah set the tone early behind the play of versatile forward Cayla Menicola. The junior had 10 first-half points and showed her range on a pair of 3-pointers. She hit one to end the first quarter and another on the first possession of the second quarter to give Mahwah a 13-5 lead.

After struggling on both ends of the floor through the game’s first 10 minutes, the Lady Owls pulled it together quickly and made a run of their own. They got baskets from four different players on four straight possessions to tie the game before an Ashleigh McManus 3-pointer capped the 11-0 run as Park Ridge held the Thunderbirds scoreless over the final 7-plus minutes of the second quarter to take a 16-13 halftime lead.

Ella Madden, who topped the 1,000-point milestone last week, finished with a double-double for Park Ridge.

To show how close this battle was, the 3-point halftime lead held by Park Ridge was the largest one held by either team until well into the second overtime. The lead changed hands five times in the third quarter alone before the pace slowed to a crawl in the fourth quarter.

Each team methodically tried to run clock and get the perfect shot, only to find the opposing defense with the answer on most occasions. A total of just five points were scored in the fourth quarter. Down by two with the final seconds of regulation ticking down. Olivia Centrelli’s pass was deflected but right into the hands of LaVerghetta on the weak side.

She laid it in while getting fouled to tie the game. But after missing the free-throw and the teams were getting prepared for overtime, LaVerghetta had to re-focus her energy and block out the miss.

“I was pretty upset after missing that free throw, but fortunately I didn’t really have time to think about it,” said LaVerghetta, who also stars on the soccer field for Mahwah. “The game was so close, every possession mattered. I had to stay focused both offensively and defensively. We’ve been an underdog all season and we worked very hard to get to this point. We knew Park Ridge was going to keep playing hard and we had to be ready for overtime.”

Carissa Weber’s layup followed by a free-throw from Centrelli gave Mahwah a two-point lead heading into the final minute. Park Ridge had its way on the offensive glass throughout the game. Led by senior Ella Madden, who was honored before the game for scoring her 1,000th point of her career last week, scored on a putback of her own miss with :19 left that tied the game at 33 and pushed the game into a second overtime.

Cayla Menicola scored a game-high 16 pointsa for Mahwah, which will host Pompton Lakes in the state tournament opener on Monday.

With Park Ridge’s defense being more aggressive as the game wore on, LaVerghetta had to match with some aggressive play of her own. After the ball swung around to her towards the top of the key, she sliced her way through traffic in front to lay it in and put Mahwah ahead. Then on the next possession she grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback attempt. Even with a partisan home crowd trying to make an impact as she stepped to the line, the sophomore dialed in on the task at hand.

“On the layup in the second overtime, I was actually looking to pass that ball to the corner,” added LaVerghetta. “They jumped in the passing lane and I just drove to the basket.”

She calmly knocked down both free throws to make it a two-possession game, 37-33. The Thunderbirds’ stingy zone defense did the rest as Mahwah kept Park Ridge off the scoreboard for the entire second overtime to take home the B.I.T. title.

“That was a great basketball game and both teams played really hard,” said Park Ridge head coach Ryan Dennis. “We went 2-11 at the foul line and missed our share of layups. I thought we played great defense throughout the entire game. When you play a really good team like Mahwah though, you can’t leave points on the board like that. It’s a lesson these girls will learn from and take into the state tournament against Cedar Grove next week.”

Menicola led Mahwah (18-6) in scoring with 16 points to go with five rebounds, two assists, and two blocks. LaVerghetta did a little bit of everything with nine points, eight rebounds, six steals, five assists, and two blocks. Weber added eight points and 12 rebounds.

Madden netted her customary double-double for Park Ridge (23-3). She pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds to go with 10 points. It was her 22nd double-double of the season.

The win was the Thunderbirds’ eighth in a row and their 12th in their last 13 games. As the No. 8 seed in the North 1, Group 2 state tournament on Monday, Mahwah will get a home game against ninth-seeded Pompton Lakes with the winner likely getting top-seeded Jefferson in the quarterfinals. With 18 wins and now a B.I.T. title in hand, Mahwah has far exceeded expectations and will be brimming with confidence heading into next week.

“I’m so proud of the effort we put forth today and how we’ve grown as a team throughout the season,” said Mahwah head coach Scott Papetti. “I thought our defense was great today. I knew Park Ridge would be prepared and they’re a really tough team to score on. We never lost our focus and made just enough plays on the offensive end to pull out the win. When we went into the B.I.T. the goal wasn’t just to make a run, we felt we had a team that could win the tournament. Couldn’t be happier with how we played and we want to keep it going into states on Monday.”