Balzano takes charge for No. Highlands
Sleight of hand may have rallied Ridgewood, but it was a slick piece of deception by Tori Balzano that threw the brakes on its furious second-half comeback.
Where she materialized in the final seconds was a bit of a surprise, especially for Ridgewood’s Lauren Beausoleil. The junior guard exploited what appeared to be a seam and drove hard into the lane for the potential tying layup only to discover Balzano, Northern Highlands gritty 5-5 senior guard, standing firmly in her path.
“We were trying to take charges the whole game,” Balzano said. “I wasn’t expecting the call but it was a great feeling afterwards. I knew I planted my feet and hoped it would go my way. That was a good change point in the game and it went our way from there.”
Balzano got what she wanted, drawing the charge to quell Ridgewood’s surge. The willingness to sacrifice her own well being with just 23.7 seconds left in regulation inspired third-seeded Northern Highlands to pull away in the closing seconds to lock up a 51-45 triumph over sixth-seeded Ridgewood on Sunday in the quarterfinals of the Bergen County Tournament at Paramus Catholic.
“It gave us that last boost to get us home,” said junior center Jackie Reyneke, who had 14 points, 16 rebounds, three assists and three block, of Balzano’s gutsy slide down into the lane to draw the foul call.
Ridgewood created seven steals in the second half, including one by Maggie Carver that resulted in Meghan Roxas drawing a foul and hitting a free throw to give Ridgewood a 29-28 lead entering the fourth.
Reyneke finished inside on three consecutive occasions to open the final period before assuming the role of distributor. The 6-4 center slid to the high post to feed Sonya West for three straight layups, the last with 3:50 to go that gave Northern Highlands (18-3) a 43-34 cushion.
Ridgewood refused to yield, fashioning an 11-4 rush, capped by two free throws from Temple-bound guard Meghan Roxas to close to within 47-45 with 1:41 remaining but it got no closer.
Madison Dunbar knocked down four foul shots over the final 19.8 seconds to ensure the win.
Roxas energized the late-game challenge by Ridgewood with 10 points in the fourth while senior center Kelsi Smesko collected 11 points, six rebounds and six steals before fouling out with 1:06 left in regulation.
West netted 10 of her game-high 17 points for Northern Highlands after intermission while teammate Madison Dunbar ended with 10 points and four assists.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner