- Mindi Rice
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WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. -- What developed into a light dusting of snow near the Central New Jersey shore Saturday may have caused more havoc on the schedule of the Champions Challenge than it did on the roads.
With two Northern New Jersey teams -- New Brunswick and Morris Catholic -- opting that morning to forgo the winter travel to Monmouth University, the day's final three games were shuffled into two, pitting Oak Hill Academy against Trenton Catholic and Manhattan Center against St. John the Baptist.
But even with a New York duel -- which St. John the Baptist claimed, 53-50 -- capping off the day, No. 7 Murry Bergtraum was still the day's best team, with a 67-55 win against New Jersey's Bloomfield Tech.
In Saturday's other games, Archbishop Molloy beat JFK Paterson, 60-38, while Mary Louis Academy opened the tournament with a 55-40 win against Howell. Oak Hill won the first of two games it will play this weekend, 73-55 against Trenton Catholic.
The Blazers made it look almost easy after an early scare against Bloomfield Tech. Down 11-7, Bergtraum went on a 12-0 run late in the first quarter that swung the game to the Blazers.
With a crazy amount of depth in speed and defense, Bergtraum opened up its lead to 20 a handful of times before Bloomfield Tech got itself back into the game in the final minutes.
"A lot of teams can't run with us, so that's what we try to do," said junior Doris Ortega, who led Bergtraum with 18. "Our defense creates our offense. ... If we can't stop anything, how are we going to win the game? Our coach gets on us about not just scoring, but we have to stop the other team, too."
Ortega and Cecelia Dixon, who added 17 for the Blazers, are two of a handful of juniors who play key roles for Bergtraum, which has one senior on its roster and a 66-game winning streak that includes a 13-0 record this season for the 10-time New York Public Schools Athletic League champs.
"They're a good team," Bloomfield Tech coach Bill Rogers said after the game. "Beatable, but a good team. We pretty much didn't play our game, we tried to do things that we don't usually do and we were a little lazy."
Senior sharpshooter Rayven Johnson led Bloomfield Tech with 24 points.
In the New York showdown that closed the first day, Rutgers-bound Christine Huber found her groove in the second half, nearly single-handedly keeping St. John the Baptist in the game. Huber scored 17 of her team-high 19 points in the second half. Manhattan Center, led by Virginia-bound China Crosby's 20 points, kept the tempo of the game fast until the final minutes, keeping it within a couple buckets for most of the game.
"They're a really quick team," said Huber, who also pulled down 16 rebounds. "We had to keep telling ourselves to play by our pace. "
With 10 seconds to go, Manhattan Center made it a one-point game on a baseline three by freshman Yen Pham. On the following play, Huber hit two free-throws to put the Cougars up by three, leaving 6.3 seconds on the clock.
The brief time allowed Crosby enough time to get off a game-tying shot, but it hit the side of the rim and missed as time expired.
Sunday's schedule includes Oak Hill facing St. John Vianney and No. 17 University playing Jersey opponent Colts Neck.
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Mindi Rice is a staff writer for ESPN HoopGurlz. She previously was an award-winning sportswriter at the Tacoma News Tribune and grew up in Seattle, where she attended Roosevelt High School before graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.