By Andrew Garda
The Montclair High School girls varsity basketball team knew their counterparts from MKA would show up and play hard Thursday night. Despite a 30-point win in the teams’ most recent meeting in the Essex County Tournament last month, the Mounties expected a much different game, and they got it, earning a 42-33 victory.
“[MKA head coach Jess] Bishop does a good job,” Coach Paul Palek said postgame. “They came out, tried to slow the game down a little bit on us. We didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half and all of a sudden they’re hanging around again. The game’s a lot easier when the ball goes in the basket.”
While the Mounties may have struggled getting the ball into that basket in the first half, they had far more success in the second. Montclair found its rhythm and began to hit their shots from the perimeter as well, dropping six of their seven 3-point shots in the second half with four of those being scored in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore forward Bianca Fede was especially dangerous in the final frame, scoring eight points including two 3-pointers. Also key to the Mounties’ second half success were senior guard Jillian Jennings, who scored five points, including a basket from the perimeter and Alisa Wiggins, who finished the third quarter with a three-pointer.
Wiggins led all scorers with 16 points and 5 assists, while Fede had 8 points, 2 assists and 3 steals and Jennings totaled 10 points, 4 assists and 4 steals.
“Our shot selection was better in the second half, a couple of them went down and we were able to pull away,” Palek said. “It took a little longer than expected, but our guards have been starting here for years. Wiggins has been a three year starter here. Jill [Jennings] started for three years. Fede started last year as a freshman. All year we’ve been dominant on the perimeter.”
While the Cougars stayed in the game, they were unable to keep pace with the high volume of perimeter scores the Mounties put up.
Now that the regular season is over, Palek has to get his team ready to play Bloomfield this Monday, Feb. 27, in the first round of the NJSIAA North 1, Group IV state tournament. The game will be a rematch from the opening night of the season, when the rival Bengals came into MHS and won, 43-36.
Last season, the Mounties team entered the postseason as the ninth seed, and made it to the sectional semis, beating the No. 8 and No. 1 seeds along the way. While this team has struggled at times during the 2016-2017 season, Palek points out that the road they were on was by no means easy.
“We had 13 losses but we played one of the toughest schedules in the area,” said Palek. “I’m hoping we’re able to call on all these tough games we played against these tough teams and get ready for Monday night. We’ve got a bunch of seniors here that are looking forward to the opportunity to go to Bloomfield. They beat us here earlier in the year but we know if we can play well we can be in the game.”