February 28, 2024

Senior Guard Devlin Plays Hard to the End As PHS Girls’ Hoops Loses in State Opener

PASSING IT ON: Princeton High girls’ basketball player Riley Devlin passes the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Wednesday, senior guard Devlin scored 10 points as seventh-seeded PHS fell 62-57 to 10th-seeded Middletown South in the first round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey Group 4 sectional. The defeat left the Tigers with a final record of 15-9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For Riley Devlin, getting to play at home in her final game for the Princeton High girls’ basketball team as it hosted Middletown South in the first round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey Group 4 sectional was something she won’t soon forget.

“It was our first state game here in a really long time, we were really hyped,” said PHS senior guard Devlin, reflecting on the matchup last Wednesday between the seventh-seeded Tigers and the 10th-seeded Eagles. “We had a lot of energy. We were excited to be home in front of our parents and fans.”

The Tigers got off to an exciting start against Middletown South, jumping out to a 14-3 lead and going into halftime ahead 39-33.

“We were communicating, we were working as a team,” said Devlin in assessing the squad’s first half performance. “We were hitting our shots, the bench was really hyped. We were running our plays correctly. We had a really good half.”

Things didn’t go as well for PHS in the second half as it got outscored 13-6 in the third quarter and went on to fall 62-57 to the Eagles to end the season at 15-9.

“They are a really good team, they played really good defense,” said Devlin, who tallied 10 points in the defeat. “It was a really good experience for our younger players for next year.”

Devlin and fellow senior Gabby Bannett battled hard to extend their career, helping the Tigers draw within 54-53 with 2:03 left in regulation, but they could get no closer than that.

“We had a slow third quarter so we wanted to hype each other up, saying it is not over yet,” said Devlin. “It was a close game; it was me and Gabby’s last game here at PHS so there was a lot of emotion. Everyone played with their heart out on the court today.”

As a team captain, Devlin has looked to hype up her teammates over the years.

“I think about freshman year and I think about watching the older girls, they were really good leaders,” said Devlin, citing such mentors as Nora Devine and Brynne Hennessy. “I wanted to do that for the younger players. I wanted to stay positive. I know we had some games that we should have won but we were keeping our heads up. We had a really, really good season. We had had a good record.”

Devlin’s bond with classmate and co-captain Bannett, who also scored 10 points against Middletown, has been a positive for the Tigers.

“Our freshman year we had eight people in our class playing basketball, it is down to just us two,” said Devlin. “We definitely have a connection. We played together forever, more than four years. Working together to build up our team is really what we wanted for this year.”

Devlin has worked hard to improve her game, scoring 175 points this season with 75 rebounds and a team-high 82 assists.

“I know that those older girls really brought my confidence up, that is what you need in basketball,” said Devlin, who also stars in lacrosse at PHS and is looking to do a post-graduate year to help prepare her for college lax. “If you don’t shoot it, you don’t know how good of a player you are. I think my dribbling skills got better. I like making plays and setting my teammates up. I worked on that pretty well.”

PHS head coach Dave Kosa was excited to have a state game at home.

“We were really fired up, that was one of best halves ever for us to score 39 points,” said Kosa. “It was great to have a home game. We have got a lot of young girls coming back, so that is setting the table for the next couple of years.”

After falling behind the Eagles in the fourth quarter, PHS fought hard to come back in the waning moments of the contest.

“It was right there, it was 51-50, they make a 3-point play and we come back and hit a three,” said Kosa. “We just needed to get the big stops. That is a really good program. They got the looks and they converted and executed. We still made it interesting but when it counted they capitalized.”

While the Tigers didn’t get over the hump against the Eagles, Kosa credited his players with producing a very good season.

“I am very proud of the effort,” said Kosa, whose squad reeled off a 10-game winning streak from early January into February.

“Even towards the end of that winning streak, we had a lot of girls who were hurt and other girls stepped up. That is going to help us in the future.”

Kosa was proud of the way his two seniors, Devlin and Bannett, have stepped up for the program.

“It was awesome watching them play today and throughout the four years,” said Kosa. “For the last 10 games or so, Gabby is playing with a bum shoulder. It pops out, it goes back in. Riley is a gamer too; in big time games she steps up. It is just tremendous, the commitment and sacrifice that both of them have made to the program.”

In Kosa’s view, the program is in a good place going forward.

“We want to continue to improve the program, these last couple of years I think we have improved it each year,” said Kosa, who got 16 points from sophomore Anna Winters against the Eagles with sophomore Katie Sharkey chipping in 13. “This year was a home game in the states, we had a tough matchup. If the matchup went another way, maybe it is different but we can’t control that. We just have to play who we play and this was a great game. Next year we are going to keep looking to take the next step.”

Devlin, for her part, believes that the effort the players put in this winter will yield dividends in the future.

“We worked really hard this year, every practice we came here hustling,” said Devlin. “Good luck to the girls next year, I am so proud of everyone.”