No.12 Sparta lands first hay, survives on the clock in win over No.11 New Providence

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Sparta coach Catherine Wille couldn’t have imagined a better start to Thursday’s game against New Providence.

In a match between two teams ranked in NJ.com Top 20 Sparta clinched a hay in the first quarter, holding the Pioneers scoreless and taking a 10-0 lead.

Wille was pleasantly surprised by the scoreline as the pressure from Sparta and the 1-2-2 inbounds trap was too much in the first quarter. What didn’t surprise Wille was New Providence’s response after the first period.

The Pioneers fought back, landing blow after blow as two New Jersey heavyweight teams battled it out for the rest of the game. In the end, Sparta’s hot start and free throws proved too much as No. 12 Sparta beat No. 11 New Providence 51-35.

The loss ends New Providence’s 16-game winning streak.

Sparta (14-3) led 27-15 at halftime before New Providence stormed back in the third period to cut the deficit to five, trailing 35-30 early in the fourth quarter, seizing the momentum.

Wille challenged his team to find a way to respond. And they did, especially on the free-throw line, making 12 from the charity stripe.

“It was a critical moment, and we had to find our instincts, and sometimes we struggled to do that,” Wille said. “We kept the ball well, we protect it, but we don’t execute like we normally do tonight. I think (New Providence) did a good job of rushing us and not letting us get ready for the shots.

Brynn McCurry scored a game-high 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Bailey Chapman added 15 points, making nine free throws, including six in the fourth quarter. Alexa Acker scored four points and had a monster game on the glass, pulling a game-high 15 rebounds.

It was always going to be difficult to hold New Providence down for long, and Wille had a feeling a race was coming.

The Pioneers (17-2) came out of the locker room at halftime confident that they could cut the deficit once adjusted. Those adjustments came in the third quarter when New Providence started breaking press and creating favorable games in transition.

Junior Meghan Lamanna came alive in third, scoring nine of her 11 points in the period, including a late layup to cut the deficit to five. Sophomore Grace Kinum scored a team-high 14 points.

McCurry also committed her fourth foul late in the quarter, forcing her to sit out until the middle of the final quarter.

“Once (New Providence) figured out how to break our defense, it was pretty tough,” Acker said. “We just knew we had to get our defense and play a lot harder and be more on them because they were just driving to the hoop and shooting 3s so we had to stop them.”

Sparta’s defense tightened and Chapman – who became a regular third scorer behind McCurry and Ally Sweeney – hit a big free throw after a big free throw.

“All my teammates always give me the ball when I’m open, and I just try to knock down as many shots as possible,” Chapman said. “Teams know the main thing I do is shoot the 3, so I tried to elevate my game to do other things.”

Surviving the backlash against New Providence bodes well for Sparta.

The Spartans have won six games in a row since a loss to Morristown on January 21, now claiming wins over three ranked opponents. Thursday’s victory was also important for Power Points, as Sparta look to gain home advantage in North Jersey Section 1, Group 3 throughout the section, including on No. 4 Ramapo, considered as the section favourite.

There could be no slippage until Power Point’s cut on Saturday and beyond, and that’s Wille’s message to his team.

“We can’t stump our toes. Every game is a playoff game,” Wille said. “That’s how I see things, and that’s how I try to explain to them. We had to win tonight because it puts us in the only seed in our (section). I let the kids figure out, ‘Do you want to go to Ramapo and play? Or do you want them to come here? It was on their minds tonight, and I think it helped them move forward.

“Every game should be treated as a playoff game going forward.”

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You can reach Luis Torres at ltorres@njadvancemedia.com and you can follow him on Twitter @ByLuisTorres.

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