Julia McClure has spent the last three weeks finding another gear to her game.
So it came as no surprise when McClure used the second half of the Patriots’ 48-37 victory over Bayonne in the Hudson County Tournament semifinals tonight to continue her recent upward trend. McClure finished with 11 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, as second-seeded Secaucus earned a spot in Saturday’s 6 p.m. championship game at Saint Peter’s University.
The Patriots (25-1) will meet top-seeded Lincoln (24-1), which edged North Bergen, 45-44, in last night’s other semifinal.
Secaucus ran its winning streak to 20 games and eased the pain of a 47-46 loss to Lincoln in last year’s county semifinals. That game, the Patriots let a 13-point second-half lead slip away before missing what would have been a game-winning lay-up at the buzzer. Lincoln went on to stun top-seeded Bayonne in the championship game.
This time around, however, the Patriots made their double-digit lead stand up, as McClure scored six points and grabbed nine rebounds in the second half. Sophomore point guard Andie Lennon scored a game-high 13 points for Secaucus, while Alex Fajardo and Jesenia Montalvo both had nine points for third-seeded Bayonne (19-5).
“It’s great. It’s almost like a flashback having to play another tough team (like Lincoln),” said McClure. “I knew we could push through,” said McClure. “It was nerve-wracking that we had a big lead and it started to dwindle, but we pushed through.”
McClure entered last night’s tilt averaging 14.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 5.3 steals in her previous eight games. On the defensive end, the sophomore held her Bayonne counterpoint, Aneia Williams, to just four points – all coming in the fourth quarter.
Secaucus coach John Sterling said with this year’s arrival of 5-foot-10 freshman Zoe Pero, McClure has flourished with the opportunity to guard smaller players.
“She’s an intense competitor. Every drill in practice she goes all out,” said Sterling. “Not only does she make our team better, she makes the people around her better.
“Julia definitely set the tone of our toughness.”
Playing in the biggest game of her young career, Pero had an impact at both ends of the floor with 12 points, three rebounds and three blocks. She will play a key role in Saturday’s championship game against either Lincoln’s star forward Breana Bey.
“I was nervous. This is our first real game,” Pero said. “(My teammates) said having me and Kristina (Ulrich) on the team, we can do something special and bring home a county championship.”
After Bayonne cut the deficit to 34-27 by the end of the third quarter, Secaucus opened the final stanza with a 6-2 run and led 40-29 with 5:15 remaining. McClure and Lennon would hit a pair of free throws each in the last minute of play to put the game away.
“I’m really happy with my team,” said McClure. “We just have to play together and push through.”
Bayonne 37: McGlone 0-0-2-2, Fajardo 4-0-1-9, Williams 1-0-2-4, Vazquez 1-2-0-8, Fiedtkou 2-0-0-4, Montalvo 1-2-1-9, Semeniak 0-0-1-1. Totals: 9-4-7-37.
Secaucus 48: Lennon 2-1-6-13, Caruso 0-1-0-3, Mitchell 0-1-0-3, Roesing 2-0-0-4, McClure 3-0-5-11, Pero 5-0-2-12, Ulrich 1-0-0-2. Totals: 13-3-13-48.
Bayonne (19-5) 10 5 12 10 – 37
Secaucus (25-1) 12 13 9 14 – 48