Secaucus comes back to grab an OT win at The Poli

Senior Daniela Peschetti's bucket early in overtime gave Secacucus the lead for good in a come-from-behind 47-42 win over Mahwah in the first round of the Joe Poli Tournament in Hillsdale.

HILLSDALE – Facing a seven-point deficit to Mahwah with less than two minutes to play, it appeared all hope was lost for Secaucus. Although their prospects for a win looked bleak the Patriots never stopped playing hard. Needing points quickly, they came alive at the perfect time. Angie Ledesma and Mia Cruz each hit big 3-pointers before a Cruz drive with nine seconds left tied the game and sent it to overtime. From there, senior Daniela Peschetti took over.

Her basket on the first possession of overtime gave Secaucus the lead for good and then showed ice in her veins by sinking all four of her free throws in the final 39 seconds as Secaucus advanced to the semifinals of the Joe Poli Tournament with a 47-42 first-round win over Mahwah on Monday afternoon in Hillsdale.

“We had to play good defense and just hope we can find a way to win,” said Secaucus guard Gabriella Torillo. “It’s all about having a good mindset no matter what the score is. We played tough and played Secaucus basketball at the end.”

Secaucus got off to a strong start with Torrillo’s second 3-pointer giving the Patriots as 13-4 lead. However, that 13th point would be their last of the first half as the Thunderbirds went to a smothering diamond-and-one full-court press with junior point guard Marissa LaVerghetta creating havoc all over the place. The Thunderbirds finally found their stride late in the second quarter with steals and layups by both LaVerghetta and freshman Taylor Tremblay before a late jumper from Payton Nista helped Mahwah slice the lead to a single point at halftime, 13-12.

Freshman Taylor Tremblay was key to Mahwah's early success.

That momentum continued in the third quarter with another freshman giving Mahwah a spark. Emma Jordan scored seven third-quarter points, including a 3-pointer that bumped up the lead to eight. Peschetti hit a buzzer-beating floater for Secaucus to cut the lead to two, but Olivia Centrelli answered with a three-pointer to start the fourth quarter and it appeared Mahwah had regained control.

The lead was seven as the clock ticked under two minutes. This forced Secaucus into desperation mode on both ends of the floor. The overplaying and gambling on defense was effective as was the Patriots’ three-point shooting. Threes from Angie Ledesma and Cruz made it a one-possession game. Then Cruz attacked from the left wing and banked in a shot from eight feet with nine seconds remaining to knot the score at 39 with the teams needing an extra session to decide a winner.

Peschetti showed what it means to be a leader by stepping up in the overtime period. On the first possession of overtime, she scored the only field goal of overtime by Secaucus, but it was enough to put them in the lead. It was one that would not be relinquished. Mahwah had a pair of possessions late in the overtime to tie the game or grab the lead. But four looks at the basket were all off the mark with Peschetti grabbing the rebound on the latter of those opportunities and getting fouled. Holding a tenuous two-point lead, Peschetti knocked down both ends of a one-and-one. Then after another Mahwah miss, she hit two more tree-throws to put the game away.

Gabriella Torillo scored a game-high 14 points for Secaucus, which will play Cresskill in the semifinals on Wednesday.

“I felt I had to be a leader, keep us positive, and keep us pushing even when things were down in the fourth quarter,” said Peschetti. “I was a little nervous for those free-throws in overtime. But I took a deep breath and was able to relax. We take them every single day at practice to prepare for these types of situations.”

Torillo led all players with 14 points, two off her career-high, for Secaucus (4-0). Peschetti and Cruz added 13 and 12 points, respectively. LaVerghetta stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, six steals, and three assists for Mahwah (3-2). Jordan also had 13 points and Centrelli finished with eight.

Secaucus moves into the Joe Poli Tournament semifinal round where it will take on Cresskill. It is the first time two Group 1 teams will meet in the semifinals in the illustrious history of the tournament. Although the Patriots are happy to survive and advance, they know a lot of work must be done if they want a spot in the final.

“We have to play that fast-paced game that Coach (John) Sterling teaches us and execute both offensive and defensively,” added Peschetti. “That urgency we had at the end of the fourth quarter and overtime, that’s how we have to play for the entire game. We’re happy with the win and we’ll step on the floor with confidence for the game on Wednesday.”