River Dell Varsity Girls Basketball Team gains redemption after a win over Pascack Valley in the Joe Poli Tournament


The River Dell Golden Hawks Varsity Girls Basketball Team(4-4) squared off against the Pascack Valley Panthers(3-4) in the Joe Poli Tournament third-place game at Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, New Jersey.

River Dell was coming off a 51-34 loss to New Providence in the semifinals of the Joe Poli Tournament. Morgan Sconza tallied a game-high 13 points, while Kasey Ziegler added 11.

River Dell and Pascack Valley were facing each other, with the Panthers rolling to a 58-36 victory in the 2023-24 regular-season opener on December 14th at Pascack Valley High School.

The Golden Hawks were sizzling from behind the arc to start the game as Sofia Sanchez buried four trifectas. However, Pascack Valley, led by Ava Burke, notching seven points, was up 15-14 at the end of the quarter.

"Sofia came out hot, and against New Providence, she was scoreless, and even against Old Tappan, she didn't have the numbers she could put up," River Dell Head Coach Lindsay Steffner explained. "To see her come out of the game shooting the ball well, I was pleased for her."

In the second quarter, River Dell jumped in front 19-15, with Kasey Ziegler knocking down a nifty spin-around jump shot in the paint, followed by Dalia Interiano canning a trey.

Pascack Valley responded with a 7-0 run to reclaim the advantage. Kasey Ziegler ended a three-minute scoring drought with a spectacular off-balanced shot off the glass. The Golden Hawks trailed 25-21, but Dalia Interiano got fouled on a three-point shot attempt with two seconds remaining. Interiano calmly sank all three foul shots.

"We knew that we had to keep plugging away and everyone at that point was playing a very good brand of River Dell basketball and showing hustle by diving after loose balls," Head Coach Lindsay Steffner described.

Once the third quarter commenced, River Dell went ahead 26-25 early on, with Alex DePol splitting the defense and driving to the basket for a lay-up off the glass.

Both teams were duking it out as the lead swayed back and forth and became more physical, especially in the low post. The Golden Hawks cranked up the defensive intensity, limiting the Panthers to six points in the period.

"I told the team we were going to change up the defenses a little bit to keep Pascack Valley off balance," Head Coach Lindsay Steffner stated. "It worked in the second half because we held them scoreless for a while." "The players started figuring it out, and for my kids at this point of the season to be able to switch defense and not have any defensive breakdowns was huge for me, and we've come a long way because we weren't able to do that two or three weeks ago."

With ten seconds remaining, Raina Gibbs drained a triple, putting Pascack Valley back in the lead 34-31. Morgan Sconza then dribbled the ball quickly up the court and, laying no hesitation at all, unleashed a pearl that hit nothing but the net before the buzzer sounded as River Dell carried a 34-31 advantage heading into the final frame.

In the fourth quarter, the lead fluctuated back and forth between the teams as the energy and passion in the stands hit a fever pitch with the River Dell and Pascack Valley fan sections.

The Golden Hawks trailed 41-40 when Morgan Sconza plunked down her second shot from downtown. Pascack Valley countered with a trifecta from Celina Bussanich. The Panthers lead would be short-lived as Kasey Ziegler connected on a jumper from long-range as River Dell seized the lead 44-43 with less than four minutes left. Off an inbounds play, Morgan Sconza drove into the paint and hit a jump shot, extending the Golden Hawks advantage to 46-43 with under three minutes to go.

"Early in the game, Morgan didn't have her legs underneath her, but as she built up more momentum and confidence, the adrenaline took over, and she could knock down some shots coming off screens," Head Coach Lindsay Steffner remarked. "We became a lot more offensive-minded in a brilliant way in the fourth quarter and took excellent shots."

"I trust Morgan with the ball in her hands, and it's just a matter of learning to play with each other." "I think we moved the ball a lot better today on offense, and there was a lot more movement and extra passes." "Morgan's got the green light for me, and she has to figure out what are the good and bad shots, and she made some tough shots in the third and fourth quarter, and all were in rhythm and not a standing offense, and where she doesn't know what else to do." "These are plays I'm calling for her now instead of being able to distribute the ball to other people."

"We worked in the summer with Kasey and her shooting the ball from behind the arc all of July." "It shows when she gets more confident and got the skill set to take that shot." "She's got the ability to go off the dribble and shoot turnaround jumpers, athletic and it's a matter of her picking and choosing the right spots to take the shot."

River Dell held a slim margin of 48-46, with less than 30 seconds remaining when Morgan Sconza got fouled. Sconza, not fazed by the pressure, knocked down a pair of free throws.

Meanwhile, on the following Pascack Valley offensive possession, the Golden Hawks's tenacious defense forced the Panthers to dribble and pass the ball as the clock ticked down, then chuck up an errant shot with Morgan Sconza corralling the ball. Sconza, with ice water in her veins, drained a pair of free throws to seal the River Dell 52-46 victory.

"We said we're going to match what Pascack Valley can do with the long-range ball and just started playing with the mismatches." Head Coach Lindsay Steffner cited. "The fourth quarter our girls did a great job of getting the ball to Kasey and Alexa and getting a mismatch going to the rim." "Pascack Valley had 14 fouls, and with the new, we're getting two foul shots, and we got the ball inside and attacked."

Kasey Ziegler totaled 14 points, while Sofia Sanchez chipped in with 12 points. Celina Bussanich and Ava Burke amassed 15 points for Pascack Valley, but Burke held scoreless in the fourth quarter.

"That was a change of defense, and I put a goal in Kasey's mind to front Ava Burke, and we can't let her touch the ball," Head Coach Lindsay Steffner mentioned. "Burke did a great job of offensive rebounding and getting points around hustle plays, and Kasey limited that, and so did Alexa(DePol)." "Alexa did a really nice job of closing out the perimeter when Burke had the ball."

"The person that goes under the radar is Dalia(Interiano) because she had to run around the whole game after Celina Bussanich and she was really on her hip and didn't give her a lot of space to get the shot off and frustrated her late in the game and wore her down for a player that's very athletic and all-county candidate."

The Golden Hawks return to action in 2024 on Tuesday, January 2nd, when they host the Ramsey Rams(4-2) at River Dell High School in Oradell, New Jersey, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. After the Ramsey game, River Dell begins a stretch of three consecutive road games.

"I have to watch more films on these opponents, but I was able to see films of Ramsey and go see Westwood live, and Mahwah was in the Joe Poli Tournament," Head Coach Lindsay Steffner said. "Our league looks very competitive this year, and the girls are excited about it as well as I am, but we got to be focused and take each opponent as a challenge and gain experience against tough competition and hoping that's going to pay off some dividends, but Ramsey's looking pretty good right now."

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