Morris Catholic wins the 2024 NJSIAA Non-Public B Girls Basketball Championship
Morris Catholic celebrates their 2024 Non-Public B state title. (Photo by Sarah Middlesteadt - JSN)

Morris Catholic Outlasts Rutgers Prep in Nail-Biting State Championship

The Morris Catholic Crusaders beat the Rutgers Prep Argonauts 53-49 in a tightly contested final to obtain their state championship on Friday afternoon in Piscataway.

The Rutgers Prep side started with a well-structured charge, which they could afford sometime before the Crusaders got into action. Still, it took no time for Morris Catholic to cement its opening strategy. They depended first on 2, 3, and 25 to advance in crescents to the hoop while the rest on defense crowded the place enough to delay Prep from scoring. Still, Prep managed to open the scoring with free throws from Gigi Battle, a layup by Ava Lamonica, and a three-pointer by Mikayla Blakes, all within two minutes. 

Battle was injured in a defensive dive midway through the quarter and was taken off for a brief moment. During this time, Mia Pauldo of Morris Catholic showed off her skills, even spidering her way to the hoop on two occasions. 

Prep ended up adopting the Crusaders' defensive strategy, while the Crusaders themselves still lacked an offensive one, shooting at convenience. Blakes scored a buzzer-beater three-point shot, finishing Rutgers Prep's quarter 14-7.

Morris Catholic's first couple of minutes were rough. Three fouls were issued in the first two minutes, leading to a string of opportunities for Prep. This didn't mean, however, that they would remain in this position. 

The Prep plan had Lamonica, Battle, and Leah Crosby on offense, and the rest tried to support them instead of guarding against any possible turnovers from the opponent. It backfired. Rallies commenced as Kennedy Brown teamed up with Mia Pauldo to at first at least send some layup opportunities, the latter still doing plenty of maneuvering.

 Despite the slow comeback, Prep still demonstrated to be the more aggressive team, albeit on their back foot by now. The Prep side showed plenty of missed balls and rushed play, which forced them to stop defending. There were no more chances for Morris Catholic to recover. Mya and Mia Pauldo now had almost total control over the team offense, the latter scoring the reply buzzer beater and tying the match at 22. The Crusaders won the quarter 15-8.

The first constant feature of the first half for Morris Catholic was keeping Tatianna Collins on the right side of the offense, helping with three-pointers while the Pauldos got around to ensuring them. This quarter was to be filled with fouls; its first half contained no less than five. 

One particular incident that drew the crowd's roar was that of Morris Catholic's Madison Miller, who knocked her opponent down entirely with a push while attempting to pull out a ball from their hands. She would late go on to score a three-pointer a couple of minutes later. 

Collins would reinitiate her activity through the middle of the court, only to knock an opponent down with her whole right arm. This brusque play caused and prompted shooters on both sides to falter in their shots and get blocked throughout the quarter. The quarter would also be the last in which Rutgers Prep would feel some sort of safety in score difference, as they finished only up by two, 39-37.

Mia Pauldo opened the final quarter for the hopeful Crusaders by scoring a three-pointer off a rebound, solidifying the MC lead given the state of Rutgers Prep: tired and spread thin. The physical play only amped up at this time, the only intentional activity on both sides being short, quick layups edging onto rally territory. 

Mia Pauldo was at this point—halfway through the fourth quarter—shadowed by Jacqueline Edelman, who scored a crucial layup as the action was winding up. 

The last-minute intensity of a close-score game battered by fouls and collisions prompted a desperate Rutgers Prep to disintegrate quickly. A result of fouls and free throws was the hanging Chad that gave the Morris catholic Crusaders their state title at 53-49.