Photo Courtesy of Michael J. Franco

Red Hawks Fall Valiantly on Day One of Scala Memorial Classic

Montclair State Red Hawks women's basketball tipped off with the Ursinus College Bears in their first game of Day 1 of the Mike Scala Memorial Classic tournament at the Panzer Athletic Center on the campus of Montclair State University.

If you spend enough time attending Montclair State University athletic events, as this writer has since 2016, you hear about some great people. Beyond any doubt, Montclair State's former Sports Information Director Mike Scala was one of them.

Scala passed away at the age of 51 in 2022. Before his passing, Scala had been MSU's Director of Sports Publicity from 1999-2022. The University held a ceremony to honor Scala before tip-off at the Panzer Athletic Center and one speaker in a video presentation described the deceased Red Hawk.

He embodied what it meant to be, not only be a student here, but an employee and just a longtime friend of Montclair Athletics. He brought his love for Montclair State, his love for athletics, his love for student athletes to everything he did, and he was just a presence on the field, on the courts, outside, anywhere he was you knew Mike Scala was there.

MSU's Director of Athletics, Rob Chesney as well as women's basketball head coach Karin Harvey and Scala's family stood on the court, where Scala's daughter Jenna gave a speech. There was a video presentation about Scala's career at MSU and after that, it was time for tip-off.

Red Hawks Bend but Don't Break

The First quarter between these two non-conference opponents was nip and tuck. The first points were a two-point field goal that was flung in by Ursinus forward Kelly Grant. With the score 7-6 in favor of Ursinus, the team's stifled each other offensively for three whole minutes. 

Coming into today's game Ursinus forward Chinwe Irondi had averaged 19.9 points-per-game, which was the highest of any player on either team. Irondi made a block during the first quarter and hard for the Red Hawks to defend inside their paint. Due to this, Ursinus jumped out to a 18-9 by the end of the first quarter.

Within Montclair State's lineup, Isabella Orlando was outstanding, scoring her second 3-pointer with a fluid shooting motion early in the second quarter. This made Ursinus lead 18-12. With under 6 minutes remaining in the quarter, Red Hawk senior Megan Duffy was dribbling in the attacking end of the floor when she fell hard. It turned out the Red Hawks leading scorer on the season would exit the game with a serious injury and was replaced by Guard Brianna Montajes.

Ursinus held a ten-point lead over the hosts halfway through the second quarter, but Montclair fought back and were able to cut their lead to 28-23 going into halftime.

Red Hawks Battle Bears in Second Half

The stakes were raised in the second half and the loss of a leader for Montclair State did not turn Red Hawk hearts faint. Irondi scored a lay-up to open the scoring in the second half and Olivia Vero fired back for the Red Hawks. Ursinus showed an edge when it came to team field-goal shooting (46% to 31%) in the first half, but the Red Hawks improved in the second half, by going 7-17 as opposed to 7-22 during the first two quarters.

At the end of the third quarter, Montclair State were trailing just by one point when Nutley's Alexis Strollo gave the Red Hawks their first lead of the game. This was a momentum shifter for the Red Hawks as now there was belief throughout their lineup that despite losing Megan Duffy, they had a chance to win.

However, Ursinus had other plans and by pushing the Red Hawks out of the paint with superior size, forced the Red Hawks to miss all six of their 3-point shot attempts. The Red Hawks went 1-11 from field-goal range and Irondi shot 5-14 from the field, which included her scoring her 1,000th career point, to help Ursinus College win this first game of the Mike Scala Memorial Classic by a score of 53 to 46. 

After the game, Brianna Montajes described what motivated her and her teammates to give their best effort on this special occasion.

We were just really wanting to play for him today [Mike Scala]. He was so close to everyone on our team.

The head coach of Ursinus, Bobbi Morgan discussed what made her team successful.

We got off to a quick start. I Felt like we were holding them off the whole way and then they came back and took the lead but I'm most proud about the fact that we bent but didn't break. - Ursinus WBB Head Coach Bobbi Morgan

While Montclair State's hearts were in the right place, making sure the result ended up going their way proved to be very difficult against an Ursinus team who came into today with one more win (6-3) than they (5-6) coming into today's game.

Both teams were just gritty, very competitive so as a team, for us we just wanted to pull ourselves together. We tried to stay together as best we could but they just got the better of us. - MSU WBB Guard Brianna Montajes

Montajes, a junior, came into the game to replace Megan Duffy, who has led MSU in points per game this season. With it being likely that Duffy will miss significant time, players like Montajes, Lyndsey Ross and Teresa Wolsak will likely have to log more minutes for Karin Harvey's team. 

Montajes reflected on how the Red Hawks battled back after seeing their Senior Leader go down.

With Meg going down it was a very hard adjustment for us, because some of our players were in a little bit of foul trouble. For example, Lyndsey she stepped up today. We just tried our best trying to contain her [Chinwe Irondi] as much as possible.

This game marks the beginning of the second half of the NCAA Division III basketball season and for Montclair State, they will look to shrug off the negatives and take the positives from their hard-fought loss into Day Two of the Mike Scala Memorial Classic which includes a 12:00 pm tip-off on their home court, tomorrow.

Every day, I feel we're getting better, we're taking big steps on how we want to be as a team and yeah, we're just trying to stay together.

Anthony Paradiso
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