The fourth quarter of last Saturday’s Hudson County Girls’ Basketball Tournament championship was about to begin at Union City High School and Lincoln High School senior She’Kinah Suber was struggling.
Up to that point, Suber made just one-of-seven shots. The Lions, the two-time defending county champion, trailed Bayonne, by three points, 28-25.
Suber knew she was pressing, trying too hard to get her team that third straight county crown.
“For some reason, my mind wasn’t in it,” Suber said. “For the first three quarters, I didn’t feel it. I don’t know why. I mean, it was the county championship and all and I just didn’t feel it.”
Lincoln head coach Tommy Best knew that Suber was not having a good time of it.
“We knew we needed her to step it up,” Best said. “Suber has been our section option all season [behind forward Kiante Johnson]. We knew that we couldn’t win it without her.”
So Best approached Suber before the fourth quarter began.
“I told her that this was the worst game I ever saw her play,” Best said. “I told her that it was a big time for us.”
“I had to shake it off,” Suber said. “I knew I had to do this for my teammates and my coach. I couldn’t let them down. The fourth quarter was a big quarter.”
Suber found the inner strength to have a fourth quarter that legends are made of.
Suber scored 12 of her team’s 21 points in the fourth quarter, including a clutch 3-point play with less than a minute remaining, leading the Lions to a 46-45 victory over the top-seeded Bees to capture their third straight Hudson County title.
Before the Lions won in 2012 to begin their current streak, Lincoln had not captured a county championship in 30 years. Now, the Lions have a “three-peat.”
“I’m glad I’m going out with a championship,” Suber said. “We had some shaky moments, but once we got the lead, I knew we would be able to close it out. We just had to keep up the intensity.”
Jadela Gaston, who had nine points for the winners, hit two free throws with 29 seconds left that gave the Lions a 46-44 lead. Deserai Vasquez hit one free throw with five seconds left to cut the lead to a single point. The Bees had a chance to win the game in the final seconds, but Aneia Williams’ shot rolled off the rim, much to the joy of the triumphant Lions.
“We didn’t want it to end that way,” Best said.
Williams paced all scorers with 16 points.
“There was a lot of pressure on us to make it three straight,” said junior forward Johnson, who added 13 points, but only had two after halftime. “I think our team pulled together and we got what we wanted. This was the goal from the first day of practice. We wanted to make it three straight and we got it.”
Best thought that the 6-foot-1inch Johnson could dominate in the game.
“I didn’t think they could match up on her too well,” Best said. “We wanted to get the ball to Kiante as much as we could.”
It didn’t come easy. Bayonne controlled the game in the early going, taking a 12-6 lead after the first quarter. Johnson had all six of the Lions’ points. Best’s team looked a little befuddled.
But the Lions came on strong in the second quarter, outscoring the Bees, 12-4, to take an 18-16 lead at the break.
The game went back and forth, the intensity never leaving. The two teams traded the lead as well several times.
Jesenia Montalvo hit a long 3-pointer that gave Bayonne a 28-25 lead with 53 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The score remained that way going into the final period – and Best’s last plea to Suber.
“She was having a rough night, but there still was time for her to lead us,” Best said. “That’s what she did. She came through for us.”
And the Lions got that third straight county title. The Lions lost some key players to graduation, but still managed to stay on top.
“To win three years in a row is really unbelievable,” Best said. “You go into the game with a chance to ‘three-peat,’ but you really don’t think you can do it. We just wanted to have a chance to win in the end. If we had a chance to win it, then I thought we could do it.”
As long as his senior leader Suber found herself – just in time.
“It really feels great to go out this way,” said Suber, who played a major role in all three county championships. “I thought last year was the hardest one to get, because we had to repeat. I believed we could win this year. I really did.”
Suber made sure that all the Lions believed, especially in the fateful fourth quarter. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.