HHS girls roll over weekend foes

Rash, DeLuca star in three-game stretch

By: Rudy Brandl
   The Hillsborough High girls did more than just survive last weekend’s tough stretch of back-to-back basketball games. They dominated both contests to run their winning streak to four in a row.
   Neither Phillipsburg nor East Brunswick posed much of a threat to the high-flying Lady Raiders, who didn’t need to be at their best to dismantle both teams. However, it’s never easy to make the long trip to Phillipsburg on a cold Friday night and return on short rest to play another game the following afternoon.
   The HHS girls, although sluggish and sloppy at times, still found a way to throttle East Brunswick by a 62-36 score less than 24 hours after hitting their season-high for points in an 82-31 rout at Phillipsburg.
   "In all my years of coaching, I’ve never played the second game of a back-to-back and looked real good," Hillsborough head coach Jim Reese said after Saturday’s home victory. "I don’t know if it’s physical or mental. You just fight through it."
   The Lady Raiders had the luxury of emptying their bench in both lopsided victories, which minimized the fatigue factor. It also gave several players a chance to get involved offensively. Twelve different girls scored at P’burg and 10 contributed points vs. East Brunswick.
   Junior power forward Christine Rash and sophomore point guard Ali DeLuca made their presence felt in Saturday’s victory. Rash nearly compiled a double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds, while DeLuca fired in 12 points, all in the second quarter.
   The game was still relatively close when DeLuca went on her personal tear. HHS had built a 15-7 lead after one quarter but DeLuca came off the bench and blew the game wide-open.
   DeLuca started her surge with a short jumper from the right wing and scored again on a lefty layup after running the full length of the court. Her biggest play came with 4:19 to play in the half when she was fouled after hitting a 3-pointer from the left wing. DeLuca added the free throw, another jumper from the top of the key and two more foul shots to finish the quarter with a dozen.
   "I was really anxious to go in," said DeLuca, who also contributed four rebounds and two assists in the quarter. "Once I got in, even though we had the lead, I was motivating myself to do something."
   Freshman Kelsey Kutch also came off the bench and scored eight of her nine points to help fuel the 22-11 spurt that basically put this game out of reach. Rash was a steady presence all game and all week, hitting double figures for the second time in three games.
   Rash asserted herself on the boards early, scoring two baskets inside in the first quarter and grabbing a bunch of rebounds throughout the game. None of her points against East Brunswick were nearly as important as the drive that tied the game at Hunterdon Central with seven seconds remaining in regulation.
   After sending the game to overtime, Rash scored six of her 12 points in the extra session to fuel the 15-4 run and 61-50 comeback victory. The HHS girls trailed by nine points with four minutes to go and were still down by six in the final two minutes but stormed back.
   "We couldn’t afford to lose," Rash said. "I had to do whatever it took to get us that win."
   Rash first realized her team needed a front court presence when Erin Poulter, last year’s starting center, suffered a knee injury in pre-season workouts. Poulter has started to work her way back into the flow, which gives the team even more depth in the paint. Rash ended a personal slump with three solid outings last week.
   "Christine started the year very strong and then she hit a stretch where she struggled," Reese said. "She responded the way you want a player to respond. She plays hard all the time and she had some big games this week. She gives us an inside presence."
   DeLuca also did some damage in the overtime, netting five of her game-high 18 points. DeLuca, who may be the area’s most potent player off the bench, hit double figures in all three of last week’s victories.
   "I don’t mind (coming off the bench) at all," she said. "We look our best when we’re pushing up the ball and I try to put that in the game when I’m in there."
   Seniors Jess Rainey and Allison Kutch certainly weren’t anonymous at Central. Rainey scored 10 points and Kutch netted nine, including a perfect 4-for-4 performance at the free throw line in overtime. Hillsborough converted 9-of-11 opportunities from the stripe under pressure. The Lady Raiders shot 11-for-14 at the line in Saturday’s win.
   "We’re shooting fouls very well," Reese said. "We work on it every day, but that hasn’t always helped in the past. We have some kids who are very good foul shooters this year. We’re right up close to 70 percent."
   Allison Kutch hit a pair of threes and led all scorers with 17 at Phillipsburg. Rainey (11) and DeLuca (10) also hit double digits, while Rash and Kelsey Kutch netted eight points apiece.
   It’s been a season of streaks for the HHS girls, who won five straight before losing two in a row. The Lady Raiders entered the week on a four-game win streak, having outscored last week’s three victims by an average of almost 30 points.
   "We’re playing our best right now," Rash said. "We can only get better with each game. This will take us right into the county and state tournaments."
   Hillsborough will face a stiff test Saturday when perennial area power Voorhees comes to town for a 1:30 p.m. start. Next week’s slate includes a home game vs. Watchung Hills Tuesday, a huge Delaware Division rematch at North Hunterdon Jan. 29 and a road game at Franklin Jan. 31. The Franklin contest was moved from Jan. 22 to Jan. 31 at 1 p.m. due to exams.