Vikings Payne free in big win over Bears

By: Rich Fisher
   Despite all the promise of a 5-0 start, the real season began Tuesday night for the South Brunswick High girls basketball team.
   And it began without Janelle Payne, the team’s second leading scorer and top rebounder.
   Payne was home sick on Tuesday while the Vikings were taking on East Brunswick, one of their chief foes in the Greater Middlesex Conference’s Red Division this year.
   "At first, everybody was like ‘Ohhh, what are we gonna do?’" forward Alicia Langone said. "But coach (Jaymee Boehmer) said ‘You guys can do it, you’re all capable. Just pick up the game, take one for the team.’ And that’s what we did."
   They did indeed.
   After a give-and-take first half, in which there were eight lead changes and six ties, the Vikings used the halftime lockerroom as a phone booth and changed into their Superman outfits. Trailing 28-25, South Brunswick leapt over the Bears in a single bound by scoring the first 17 points of the third quarter.
   "Halftime was the difference," Boehmer said. "We basically told them it was up to them. They’re seniors, we know everything East Brunswick does, they know everything we do, so we just had to get out there and work a little harder, run a little faster.
   "I felt we played scared in the first half. I told them there’s a difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. I felt like, in the first half we were playing not to lose. We were just playing to survive."
   They managed to survive thanks to an inspired half by Langone, who scored nine of her 14 points in the first half and seemed to hit big foul shots or get a big bucket whenever the Vikes needed it most.
   "I just tried to work the best I could and look for open shots," said Langone, who also grabbed seven rebounds. "I knew that someone needed to step up. Janelle’s a big scorer, and if I could do it I would try and do it."
   "Alicia works hard day in and day out," Boehmer said. "She has to be in the game whether she scores or not. I like her in the game, she’s aggressive and makes things happen, a lot like Sam Rene’."
   Thanks to Langone’s early work, the Vikings were within striking distance at the start of the second half. South Brunswick applied fullcourt pressure when the opportunity presented itself, and became more lively in its halfcourt zone. Rather then let East Brunswick run set plays at will for open layups, the Vikes pestered the Bears into numerous turnovers that resulted in a fierce transition game.
   The half opened with either open court or penetration layups by Jordan Confessore, Jess Mastronardi, Janay Barnett, Confessore and Mastronardi. Langone hit a foul shot, and Mastronardi sandwiched two more buckets around a Confessore basket to give the Vikes a 42-25 lead.
   "I know that when we need to get some points, we step it up and we get points," said Confessore, who filled in admirably for Payne with nine points and six rebounds. "People stepped up at the right times and everybody played their roles."
   After shooting 8-for-12 in the second quarter, EB was 0-for-13 in the third, to go along with five turnovers. South opened a 50-30 lead before EB got its first basket of the half with 5:50 remaining.
   That seemed to spark the Bears, who drained five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. The perimeter blitz pulled East Brunswick within 52-44 with 3:32 remaining. That’s when Mastronardi took over. The Vikes leading scorer notched the game’s next four points on 4-for-6 foul shooting. After EB’s Megan Mayo hit a three-pointer to make it 56-47, Confessore and Langone each hit two foul shots to put it away.
   Confessore finished with a season-high 26 points, shooting 8-for-15 from the field and7-for-10 from the foul line.
   "She’s the one you want at the foul line at the end," Boehmer said.
   "We always have confidence in Jess," Confessore said. "We know if we need foul shots, she’ll be there and she’ll be able to sink them."
   Mastronardi is averaging 19.0 points per game, but as the Vikings proved on Tuesday, they are hardly a one or two-girl team. Janelle’s absence proved not to be a Payne, er pain.
   "We’re deep enough to handle that, I think we proved it tonight," Boehmer said. "It’s not just one person, it’s everybody. They fought very hard tonight and did a great job. Jordan’s been our sixth man, she had to step it up. Everybody contributed."
   Which is how teams get to be 6-0. The Vikings won their holiday tournament last week, beating Princeton and Sayreville by a combined 48 points. Mastronardi had 38 points in the two games, Payne had 37 and Barnett had 20.
   "I was happy with the outcome of our tournament," Boehmer said. "But tonight is when our schedule really begins. We’re into our Red Division schedule now, and these really count."
   And the Vikings proved on Tuesday, they will not be counted out, no matter who’s missing from the lineup.