March 7, 2018

Sparked by Devine’s Clutch Shooting, PHS Girls’ Hoops Gets State Tourney Win

DEVINE INTERVENTION: Princeton High girls’ basketball player Erin Devine looks for an opening in a game this winter. Junior forward Devine scored a game-high 14 points as 12th-seeded PHS upset fifth-seeded South Brunswick 34-18 in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional on February 27 to earn the program’s first win in the state tourney since the mid-1990s. Two days later, Devine tallied 12 points in a losing cause as PHS fell 60-41 at fourth-seeded Marlboro in the sectional quarterfinals. The defeat left the Little Tigers with a final record of 14-14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Playing at South Brunswick in in the opening round of the state tournament last year, the Princeton High girls’ basketball team took its lumps in falling 56-25.

Last week, PHS got a rematch with the Vikings as the teams were matched up in the opening round of this year’s Central Jersey Group 4 sectional.

Erin Devine and the 12th-seeded Little Tigers relished the opportunity to have another shot at South Brunswick.

“We all really wanted it because of how we got blown out last year by them,” said junior forward Devine. “That made it important to us.”

When PHS fell behind 4-0 in the early stages of the February 27 contest, it looked like history could be repeating itself. But then Devine drained a 3-pointer and followed that with another bucket as PHS took a 5-4 lead.

“It gave us motivation because we realized that we really could do this; it made us realize that we were in the game,” said Devine.

With the Little Tigers leading 14-11 at halftime, they felt confident of pulling out the victory.

“We were really focusing on our defense,” said Devine. “The fact that we held them to so little in the first half, we realized that if we kept our defense strong in the second half, we could finish the game.”

The Little Tigers finished the game with aplomb, outscoring the Vikings 14-1 in the fourth quarter on the way to a 34-18 triumph, the program’s first win in the state tournament since the mid-1990s.

“We knew if we won the fourth quarter that we would win the game,” said Devine.

“We went into it, like one more quarter, we didn’t want to go home with a loss. It was let’s finish it and we can go on and play in the next round.”

Devine, who ended up with a game-high 14 points, credited PHS head coach Dave Kosa with helping her get back on the right track after a sluggish start this winter.

“Coach Kosa has really worked with me a lot and I think that has really helped my confidence,” said Devine.

“I was really struggling at the beginning of the season and coach Kosa helped me turn the end of the season around.”

Coach Kosa, for his part, acknowledged that his team struggled a little bit off the bat with the early deficit.

“We got decent shots; it was just a matter of they weren’t falling,” said Kosa. “We were a little rushed. Once we got that first bucket, that three from Erin, it seemed like we settled down a little.”

The squad’s defensive effort was a constant. “I really liked the way the game went defensively,” asserted Kosa.

“We really pride ourselves on playing defense for long stretches of time. We really hustled; we did a great job with our hustle plays. We made it tough for them and we did a good job as far as cutting out their penetration.”

As the contest unfolded, the Little Tigers found a rhythm offensively.

“We looked for open spots and we started to cut into the middle,” said Kosa. “They were switching on defense so we continued to set screens and go back doors on them and finally it opened up for us.”

In Kosa’s view, Devine’s sharpshooting helped open things up for PHS.

“Erin is calm, cool, and collected; she can shoot the basketball which makes it great for us because she is a 4,” said Kosa.

“She is able to take them outside. It gives us another dimension as far as her knocking down threes and having the defense now extend for us. That opens things up a little bit as far as our cuts in the middle.”

While PHS fell 60-41 to fourth-seed Marlboro in the sectional quarterfinals last Thursday to end the winter at 14-14, Kosa believes that the win over South Brunswick was an important breakthrough for the Little Tigers.

“It feels good; it is something that we really worked hard for and one of the reasons why I wanted to come back and coach here,” said Kosa, a longtime math teacher at PHS and former head coach of the Little Tiger boys’ hoops program.

“We took the first step today. We have got a great vibe going, we have a great chemistry; that is what we have been preaching the whole year. It is just togetherness and enjoy the season. We want to put girls’ basketball on the map.”

Devine, for her part, believes the Little Tigers have what it takes to keep stepping up.

“Coach Kosa has turned the program around incredibly this year,” said Devine, noting that PHS went 6-20 last season.

“We are a bunch of juniors and sophomores. Our starters are one senior, three juniors, and one sophomore. The juniors are a really close group. It was really nice to get that win.”