Strong team effort gives Nottingham girls their second straight Tucker title

Tucker Champs
The 2017 Nottingham Girls Varsity Basketball team are J. Michael Tucker Tournament Champions for the second year in a row! Photo by Michael A. Sabo

By Rich Fisher

Dec. 28:If the Nottingham girls’ basketball team gets any hotter, it may need assistant coach Matt “Smokey The Bear” Paglione to put it out.

Right now, the Northstars are as efficient on the court as Paglione is at extinguishing kitchen fires at holiday parties.

After winning their first of the season Wednesday, the Northstars played an outstanding game today in taking a 47-26 victory over host Bordentown in the J. Michael Tucker Tournament championship game. It was the second straight Tucker title for the Northstars (2-3).

Liz Kerekes drives to the net for the basket. Photo by Michael A. Sabo

“This means a lot,” point guard Liz Kerekes said. “We did good yesterday, and we all played good today. It’s a good feeling.”

Kerekes scored 10 points and ran the offense impressively in earning All-Tournament honors along with forward Sara Haas. Nottingham moved the ball crisply for open looks inside and out, and Kerekes had a lot to do with it.

“I’ve been playing with Maddie (Diaz) since sixth grade, I always know where she’s gonna be,” Kerekes said. “Sara always knows I’m looking for her. I just always know where they’re gonna be. It’s a comfortable feeling knowing that.”

“This feels good,” added Haas, who had 13 points. “We wanted to come in and win it again this year. We all work pretty well together, we all get along pretty well. That has to say something. I wouldn’t want to go into any other games without those people.”

It was an impressive effort on both ends of the floor for Nottingham, as its defense held the Scotties to just 13 points over the final three quarters after they scored that many in the first. Bordentown shot 11-for-44 (25 percent) with 15 turnovers and had just three baskets in the second half.

The game was tied 12-12 late in the first quarter before two buckets by Patricia Penix (12 points) and a 3-pointer by Kerekes gave Nottingham a lead it would never relinquish.  The Stars gradually pulled away at the foul line in the second quarter to open a 30-19 margin, and took over the contest in the second half.

“They all stepped up and we’ve talked about it this whole season,” coach Lauren Adams said. “Any day somebody can be the leading scorer and each player helps the team in different ways. Sometimes it’s by putting the ball in the basket, sometimes it’s by making the right pass or getting fouled and getting to the line, or making a play on defense.”

Nottingham’s Madison Diaz drive to the basket. Photo by Michael A. Sabo

Kelly noted that most of Nottingham’s points against Northern Burlington Wednesday were inside. That was also the case against the Scotties despite intimidating Kasi Oguonu lurking underneath. But the Stars got their share of lay-ups (and three 3-pointers) with good ball movement and some nice entry passes. Oguonu had five blocks, but the Stars kept coming.

“That’s what’s gonna happen when you have a tall girl like that,” Adams said. “You’re gonna get your shot blocked. You can’t cry about it, you get back on defense and the next time learn from it and do something different.”

“No one was backing down,” assured Kerekes.

Once Nottingham got its big lead, the Stars did a nice job of holding the ball and running clock.

“It’s hard to play that energetic, and then slow it down on offense,” Adams said. “But their maturity showed and I was very pleased with how they controlled the game down the end.”

Giuliana Pocino and Diaz helped Nottingham hold its own on the boards as Pocino had nine points and eight rebounds and Diaz grabbed seven boards after scoring 10 points in the win over NBC. Even Nydia Liles chipped in, as she drained three straight free throws to start Nottingham on an 11-2 run to close the second quarter.

Giuliana Pocino sets up for the shot in the J. Michael Tucker Tournament . Photo by Michael A. Sabo

Overall, it was just a good team win.

“That’s what makes me most happy,” Adams said. “In our Hopewell game we couldn’t shoot to save our lives but we played hard and tough. If they do that for me every game this year, we’re gonna face some tough challenges and we’re gonna lose some games, but we should also win a lot more than we were thinking at the beginning.”

Winning a second consecutive holiday tournament is a nice start, as both coach and players feel this could be a springboard for Nottingham.

“We started a little rough, but we picked it up here,” Kerekes said. “We have a couple of games next week, hopefully we can win them.”

“Having two wins going into the New Year, I think we’ll start playing better and get a couple more wins,” Haas added “I think everything from here on out will be better things. We all work pretty hard and it’s starting to pay off.”

Adams feels the title not only provided a trophy, but some much needed momentum.

“For us, at this point of the season, this was huge,” she said. “We had a rocky start, a lot of heads were down, confidence was lacking. To go into 2018 with two big victories like this and a trophy . . . I know we have a tough week, we face Notre Dame, but we’ve gotta feel good about the way we’re playing.”

So good, that they don’t want Smokey the Coach bringing his extinguisher anywhere near them.

Fonollosa a highlight for Hamilton in defeat

Hamilton West was also in the Tucker Tournament but lost two straight to Bordentown and Northern Burlington. Despite the defeat, Gabbie Fonollosa had a nice tournament offensively with 19 points in the two games, including 13 against the Scotties. Marissa Cooper and Jenna Slack had eight each against Bordentown.

About The Author

Rich Fisher has been around the Hamilton Township sports scene for so long that he actually got Rich Giallella’s autograph when Giallella was still a player! Proud product of Hamilton YMCA and Lou Gehrig baseball leagues and former teammate of Jim Maher on a very average Barton & Cooney rec basketball team, Fish graduated from Nottingham Junior High and Steinert High school and has covered township sports since 1980. His goal in life is to convince Maria Prato that Jersey tomatoes are at least 100 times better than California tomatoes.