Lavin’s clutch plays leads Howell to Kuhnert title

Rebels edge Colts Neck, 38-37

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

PHOTOS BY JEFFGRANIT staff Above, Howell’s Brianne Lavin looks to push the ball upcourt during the Kuhnert final in Freehold on Thursday. At left, Colts Neck’s Jessellyn Jackson and Howell’s Colleen Thomas battle for a loose ball.PHOTOS BY JEFFGRANIT staff Above, Howell’s Brianne Lavin looks to push the ball upcourt during the Kuhnert final in Freehold on Thursday. At left, Colts Neck’s Jessellyn Jackson and Howell’s Colleen Thomas battle for a loose ball. In the frantic final minute of the game, it was Brianne Lavin, who wore her emotions on her sleeve, who made the difference.

After trailing Colts Neck throughout the game, it was Lavin’s three free throws in the last 53.7 seconds of the game that led to Howell’s dramatic 38-37 win over Colts Neck in the Jack Kuhnert Holiday Basketball Tournament championship game Thursday night at Freehold Borough High School.

With Colts Neck leading by two, 37-35, Lavin came up with a clean steal and was fouled going in for the layup. She made one of two shots to make it a one-point game.

“We needed a big play,” said the junior, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player. “I always go for the steal off the dribble.”

Coach Julie Hoebee has seen that before.

“It’s what she does best,” said the Rebels’ coach. “She’s got very quick hands.”

With Colts Neck looking to take time off the clock, clinging to the one-point lead, Colleen Thomas came up with a steal on a trap play and the always present Lavin was there to gather in Thomas’ pass and race for the basket. She was again fouled as she went up for the basket.

This time she made them both and Howell had completed its unlikely comeback, taking the 38-37 lead that held up over the final 42 seconds.

“I knew I had to be clutch,” Lavin pointed out.

Lavin is the most emotional player on the court and that suits Coach Hoebee just fine. Lavin, a junior, knows how to use the energy and emotion positively as she did in Thursday’s final.

“She’s an emotional kid, but she can turn that to her advantage,” she said.

It’s not often that a player scoring six points in a final is the MVP, but the Rebels are Lavin’s team. She gives the team its identity on defense with those quick hands and the pressure defense she provides out front. She distributes the ball and runs the offense efficiently and scores when needed.

For most of Thursday’s final, top-seeded Colts Neck looked like it was headed for its first-ever Kuhnert title.

A combination of Catherine Cristino and the Cougars’ outside shooting had Colts Neck up 21-14 at halftime. Cristino had 12 points and Holly Jones and Jessellyn Jackson each had 3-pointers. Thomas and Michelle Blum kept the Rebels in the game through first half.

The low score was not surprising considering that both teams pride themselves on their defense. Open looks were not there.

Eight straight points by Jones early in the third quarter pushed the Cougar lead to 28-18. But Howell would not go away. The Rebels went on a 10-3 run at the end of the quarter to cut the lead to 31-28.

Lavin and Ali Goldsmith connected from beyond the arc and Erin Donahue scored on a three-point play.

Donahue’s basket to start the quarter cut the lead to just one, 31-30.

Cristino responded with three free throws to push the lead back to 34-30.

After a Thomas basket made it 34-32, Jacqueline Spinella canned a pair of free throws to push the lead back up to four, 36-32.

Points were hard to come by in the final 4:00 of the game as both teams turned the ball over time and again as the play became very hectic.

Goldsmith got Howell back to within one, 36-35, on a three-point play with 3:43 left in the game.

Spinella made one of two free throws to put Colts Neck up by a basket, 37-35, with 1:31 remaining in the game.

Thomas missed a driving layup after coming up with a steal. When Cristino came down with the rebound, it looked like Colts Neck was back in control. But Howell was just one play away from turning it around and that’s when Lavin made the first of her big plays in the final minute, and Howell was about to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat.

Hoebee said that despite foul trouble and playing from behind, the Rebels never thought they were out of the game.

“We just tried to keep them settled,” said Hoebee. “We told them to stay relaxed and do what we do best, play defense.

“The whole time we felt like we were in the game because we never fell behind by more than 10,” she added.

Lavin said that the Kuhnert tournament has been Howell’s goal since playing Colts Neck in summer league play.

“We wanted this tournament since the summer,” she said. “We knew we would come up against Colts Neck.”

The championship was Howell’s third overall in the tournament. They last won in 1992 when they won the second of their back-to-back titles for Bob Harrigan.

The Rebels, who left 2004 behind them with a perfect 5-0 record, had no one in double-figures against Colts Neck. Goldsmith had nine to lead the way, with Thomas adding eight.

At times, it was easy to forget that Colts Neck (3-2) has such a young team. Often times, they don’t have a senior on the floor. That inexperience, coach John Truhan said, caught up with the team in the fourth quarter.

“Our youth was exposed,” said Truhan. “They’ll learn from it. It was a good experience for them.

“I’m proud of the kids getting to the final,” said Truhan, whose team needed overtime to beat Manasquan, 41-38, in the semifinal.

Cristino led all scores Thursday with 17, while Jones added 10.

Manasquan beat Freehold Township, 56-32, in the consolation game for third place, getting 13 points from MaryKate Duggan.

The News Transcript sponsored the All-Tournament Team that included MVP Lavin, teammates Thomas and Goldsmith, and Colts Neck’s Cristino and Jones.

Notes… The Howell players have stated that “this season is for Hoebee.” Not, Julie, but her sister Lisa Hickson, who has breast cancer. She had surgery and is undergoing chemotherapy at this time. It was the Howell players on their own, who came up with the idea.

“It was so wonderful the kids dedicated the season to her and to bring awareness to breast cancer,” said Hoebee. “It’s been a struggle for the family.”