Lady Raiders win big one on the road

Kutch, Rainey take over in crunch time

By: Rudy Brandl
   CLINTON — The Hillsborough High girls have found many different ways to win basketball games this winter, but they had to call on their senior stars in last Friday night’s crucial Delaware Division road game at North Hunterdon.
   Allison Kutch and Jess Rainey took over in the fourth quarter and helped the Lady Raiders post a 51-44 victory to avenge a prior home loss to the Lions. HHS and North entered the week tied for first place in the Delaware.
   "If there was any chance to win a conference championship, we had to win tonight," Hillsborough head coach Jim Reese said afterward. "I couldn’t see North losing twice. We had to win this game."
   Kutch scored seven of her team-high 14 points in the final 4:12, while Rainey tallied five of her seven in the last 3:47 of the game. The HHS seniors accounted for 12 of their team’s final 13 points.
   "Everyone did a great job, but we’re more experienced," Rainey said. "This is my fourth year playing. I know what I’m expected to do."
   "As captains, Jess and I had to set the tone," Kutch added. "North is very aggressive. We had to match their aggressiveness. We knew this was going to be a tough game and it could come down to this game for the conference (title)."
   North was trying to take a commanding two-game lead in the division standings and was rallying back from an eight-point deficit when Kutch drilled the first dagger of the stretch run. Rainey found Kutch open on the left wing and Kutch fired in a 3-pointer to give Hillsborough a 41-34 cushion.
   Hillsborough struggled from the free throw line in the final four minutes, connecting on only 8-of-16 attempts. However, the Lady Raiders played great defense and did a solid job on the boards to minimize North’s opportunities.
   North cut the lead back down to four but Rainey went on a personal four-point spurt to bump the lead back up to 45-37. Rainey hit two free throws and followed with a brilliant steal of North star Cheri Raffo that turned into a coast-to-coast layup with 3:37 to play.
   The Lady Raiders continued to spread the floor and ended up at the foul line seven more times. At one point, they only hit 3-of-10 free throws but North couldn’t take advantage at the other end.
   Hillsborough struggled in almost every area early in the game. North bolted to a 12-4 lead after one quarter, dominating the boards and taking advantage of Hillsborough’s terrible shooting. The Lady Raiders started to climb back in the game with threes by Lisa Daffern, Carolyn McNamara and Kutch in the second quarter but still trailed 18-14 in a low-scoring first half.
   "In the first half, we played hard but not well," Reese said. "It might have been nerves or jitters. We made a lot of mistakes but the kids played a great second half. We hung in there in the first half and kept it close enough to do something in the second half."
   The team’s best rebounding stretch of the season fueled the third quarter surge, which featured an 11-0 run that put Hillsborough ahead for good. The HHS girls became animals on the boards and enjoyed a 12-7 edge in rebounding during the third quarter.
   "A lot of teams are erratic with their shooting; we’re erratic with our rebounding," Reese said. "We got manhandled in the first half but we did a great job in the second half on the boards. Rebounding is mostly effort anyway. We needed to do a better job."
   "Rebounding is big, especially offensively," Kutch added. "We didn’t do too well in the first half but we muscled up with them in the second half."
   Kutch opened the 11-0 flurry by hitting two free throws. Sophomore Ali DeLuca converted a steal into a fast break layup and a 20-20 tie. Christine Rash made a nice power move to the hoop to give the Lady Raiders their first lead since the opening minutes with 5:31 to go in the third quarter. DeLuca pulled up for a jumper on the fast break to make it 24-20, which caused North coach Tom Hank to call a timeout.
   On the very next play, Kutch stole the inbound pass and banked in a layup to give the Lady Raiders a six-point lead. DeLuca added a free throw to complete the 11-0 flurry. HHS and North basically traded baskets for the rest of the game, but that was just fine with the Lady Raiders.
   "We loosened up offensively in the second half," Reese said. "We started to make some shots and went on a nice little run."
   "We started out slow but we picked it up in the second half," Rainey added. "I’m happy. This is a big win. Now we’re tied for the conference."
   FREE THROWS — The Lady Raiders (10-3 overall, 7-1 in division) were scheduled to host Bridgewater-Raritan and travel to Hunterdon Central in this week’s final two games before the state playoff qualifying deadline … two more wins would definitely boost the team to a higher seed in the always-competitive Central Jersey Group 4 bracket … Kutch, the only HHS player in double figures against North, leads the Lady Raiders with a 10.5 scoring average … Hillsborough was seeded third, behind Immaculata and Rutgers Prep, in the Somerset County Tournament field and will host No. 6 Bridgewater-Raritan in a quarterfinal game on Feb. 16.