Saddle River Day wins 8th straight Bergen County title

Junior point guard Brooke Braen helped lead Saddle River Day School to its eighth consecutive Bergen County girls basketball championship with a 50-47 win over Teaneck on Wednesday.

FAIR LAWN - After losing to Teaneck in the regular season, there was nothing the Saddle River Day players could do but watch their opponent celebrate at their expense. It marked the Rebels' first loss against a Bergen County opponent since 2015. The experience was a humbling one and put the Rebels' season at a crossroads. A loss that could have driven them apart instead banded them together. And, as fate would have it, the two teams would meet again. Only this time with the honor of being Bergen County's best team on the line.

The Rebels had a sizeable fourth-quarter lead, just like they did in the first meeting against Teaneck. But the Highwaywomen whittled it down to two points and had a chance to tie it in the waning seconds but could not get off game-tying three-point attempt as top-seeded Saddle River Day kept the dynasty going with a record eighth straight Bergen County Tournament title with a 50-47 triumph over No. 3 seed Teaneck on Wednesday night at Fair Lawn High School.

“The important thing for us was to stay together and rely on the chemistry that we have to pull us through," said Saddle River Day junior guard Faith Williamson. "Even though we've won county championships before, there are always some nerves going into a county final. Especially going against a team that beat us already this season. We made some mistakes tonight and missed a lot of shots. But we rebounded from that by working as a team.”

Erin Frazier had 19 points and 13 rebounds for Teaneck.

It was evident right from the opening tap that this was going to be a game more dominated by defense than it was by making shots. Teaneck applied lots of ball pressure early and Saddle River Day countered with a 1-3-1 zone defense. Neither team found any rhythm in the first quarter and the game was tied heading into the second quarter with a score (7-7) and a style of play that was more reminiscent of a football game than a basketball game.

Saddle River Day went on the first big run of the game in the second quarter. Bella Pedone hit a baseline floater to give the Rebels the lead and then Julianna Almeida got hot. She went on a personal 8-0 run to push the Rebels' lead up to 10.

However, a couple of rushed shots by the Rebels that misfired late in the half allowed Teaneck to creep back in the game. The Highwaywomen went on a quick 6-0 burst capped by a layup from Jillian Carter at the buzzer to trim the lead to 19-15 at the half. The good news for Teaneck was that despite not hitting their shots they were only down four. The bad news was that it could have been in the lead if not for its woes at the foul line, missing seven free-throws in the first half.

Despite the struggles from the charity stripe, the positive momentum provided by the late run in the second quarter spilled over into the third quarter. A bucket inside by freshman Leayana Corville gave Teaneck its first lead. It did not last long though as Cristina Parrella shook off an unusually cold first half with a red-hot third quarter. The Princeton-bound guard hit a pair of three-pointers amid a 9-0 run to make it 34-25 Rebels after three quarters.

Brooke Braen's corner three early in the fourth quarter bumped the lead up to double digits. With the game slipping away, Teaneck had its best stretch of playby dominating the glass and getting the ball inside. Baskets from close range by Erin Frazier and Carter closed out an 11-2 run that sliced the Rebels' lead down to a single point, 39-38.

The Highwaywomen had two chances to take the lead but missed a shot and then Almeida came up with a steal in the paint. Faith Williamson had a drive to the basket and a pair of free-throws to make it a six-point lead, forcing Teaneck to foul inside the final minute. Surprisingly, the Rebels (a team that shoots nearly 80% from the foul line as a team on the season) missed four straight free-throws to allow Teaneck to crawl back within a single point.

Almeida stepped up big with a pair of free-throws to make it a three-point game, 50-47. On the game's final possession, Teaneck needed a three-pointer but drove for an elbow jumper instead. The rebound was batted away as time expired to secure Saddle River Day's eighth consecutive Bergen County Tournament title.

"We knew from the first time we played them that this was going to be a tough, gritty battle that went right down to the last possession," said Almeida. "This team has been through so much adversity over the past few years that we're prepared for anything. We love each other as a team and that's huge. The tough times have brought us together more than they have torn us apart. Everyone has played an impactful role on this team and it definitely helps at the end of games when you're playing for each other."

Parrella scored 20 of her game-high 22 points in the second half for Saddle River Day (19-3). Almeida did what she normally does, a little bit of everything. The Navy-bound senior finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds along with hustle plays that do not show up in the box score.

Frazier and Corville both notched double-doubles for Teaneck (19-7). Frazier, a senior forward, had 19 points and 13 rebounds, while Corville had 14 points and 14 rebounds. Demi Simpson pulled down a career-high 20 rebounds to go with eight points. It's the 19th time this season Simpson had pulled down 10 or more rebounds in a game. The Highwaywomen held a +20 edge on the boards but finished just 10-21 (47.6%) from the foul line.

With another Bergen County title in hand, the Rebels will turn their attention towards the state tournament next week in a first-round game against a tough Roselle Catholic squad. A win there would put them exactly where they want to be, with a shot in the Non-Public B North semifinals against the No. 1 team in the state, Morris Catholic.

"This whole team is like a family, to win another county title together feels great," said Parrella. "Losing to Teaneck made us more prepared and more focused when it came to watching film and learning their tendencies. We came into this game with a chip on our shoulder.We'll have to build on this and have the same kind of focus for states."