IHA wins its sixth straight title

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Samantha Rinaldi made a couple of game-changing plays for IHA, which won its sixth straight Non-Public North A state sectional title with a 44-31 win over rvial Holy Angels on Wednsday night.

PATERSON – Coming into this season IHA, a traditional state-wide power program in girls basketball, was in a position that it had not been in quite some time. With only one starter back and four freshmen in the rotation, this year’s team was going to go through some growing pains. The focus had to be on getting better every day with the hopes that it would all come together in March. That plan came to fruition when IHA faced off against Holy Angels on Wednesday night. After splitting two regular-season meetings, the two archrivals met for a third time and this time there was a Non-Public A North title on the line.

The game was back and forth throughout the first half before one of those aforementioned freshmen came up with two huge plays that changed the game. Samantha Rinaldi made a huge block on a potential breakaway layup and then nailed a 3-pointer that gave IHA a nine-point halftime lead. The Blue Eagles were never threatened again in winning their sixth straight Non-Public A North title with a 44-31 triumph at Kennedy High School in Paterson.

“We all had a case of the jitters early but we settled down at the right time,” said IHA head coach Steve Silver. “Sammy (Rinaldi) hitting that big three allowed us to play a little more comfortably in the second half. I thought we did well with getting the ball into the post and defensively we were solid all game. When you play a team for a second or a third time, you can really see in what areas you’ve improved from December until now. I thought defensively we’ve improved drastically from day one. To hold a team like Holy Angels to 31 points, you’re doing a really good job.”

Without standout forward Elizabeth Garcia, Holy Angels was already at a disadvantage coming into the game but kept pace early on. Sam Sivulka twice scored inside early and Elena Pulanco’s jumper tied the game at 12.

Sam Sivulka and Holy Angels finished thier season with an 18-7 record.

Holy Angels was down four and got a steal with Pulanco running out for what looked like a sure-fire layup. Rinaldi never gave up on the play, however, and chased her down for the block. IHA got a stop on the ensuing possession and fellow freshman Anna Morris scored inside before Rinaldi nailed a 3-pointer to help IHA weather storm and extend its lead to nine by halftime, 23-14.

“I just wanted to make a play and help the team in any way that I could,” said Rinaldi. “We talked about making big plays to get the momentum and then work hard to keep that momentum. Katie (Jones) and the older girls really helped us freshmen to stay confident and keep taking open shots. I think as one of four freshmen we doubted ourselves a little bit in the beginning of the year. But now we’re playing with confidence and we really wanted this game.”

The intermission did little to slow down the Blue Eagles. On their second possession of the second half, senior point guard Katie Jones nailed a 3-pointer from the corner while getting fouled. She hit the free throw to complete the rare four-point play to bump the lead up to double-digits where it remained for the rest of the game.

“That 3 at the end of the half and then the four-point play, that put us in a hole that we couldn’t get out of,” said Holy Angels head coach Sue Liddy. “We really had no inside presence and they controlled the paint. It’s tough to fight back from behind when you’re only getting one shot per possession. I thought we gave it our best effort, we just didn’t score enough.”

Katie Jones and IHA will play Red Bank Catholic in the Non-Public A final on Saturday in Toms River.

Annie Walsh and Emma Matesic scored inside as IHA set the tone in the paint and never took its foot off the gas. They clamped down defensively and allowed just seven points over the final 10 minutes of play in celebrating the program’s sixth straight section crown.

IHA (23-5) was about as balanced as a team could be on Wednesday night. None of the Blue Eagles scored in double-figures, but eight of the nine players who saw action got in the scoring column led by Eliya Herriott’s eight points. Pulanco was the only player in double-figures for either team with a game-high 14 points for Holy Angels (18-7).

IHA moves onto the Non-Public A state final on Saturday at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River. There the Blue Eagles will be a decided underdog against perennial power Red Bank Catholic. With their goal for the season having been achieved, the Blue Eagles know they are playing with house money and will cherish the experience.

“I couldn’t be prouder of how we’ve improved throughout the season and especially in the past few weeks,” added Silver. “When you take care of the ball and you play really good defense, you put yourself in a position to be successful. We know we have a tough task ahead of us on Saturday. We’ll go in there and play to the best of our ability. That’s all I can really ask for.”