Bulldogs ride defense to CJ Group I crown

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Chrissy Fisher of Rumson-Fair Haven beats Shore Regional’s Carissa Zambrano to a rebound in the Central Jersey Group I final on Monday.

FRENCHTOWN — There was very little Shore Regional could do. The Blue Devils were bedeviled and befuddled by a Rumson-Fair Haven defense that takes no prisoners. At least the Blue Devils were not alone. They were just the final victim in Rumson’s impressive run to the Central Jersey Group I championship.

In the sectional final played Monday night at Delaware Valley Regional High School, George Sourlis’ Bulldogs put on an awesome display of pressure — team defense.

"Defense is our key and that’s what we stand for," said point guard Kerry Planer, who spearheaded the Bulldog effort with her ferocious on-the-ball defense. "It’s incredible. We’ve just been playing such good defense and it shows on the scoreboard."

The scoreboard was not lying when the numbers read 47-15. The Bulldogs (23-4) were that dominant.

Sourlis remarked that Rumson’s tenacious defense is the byproduct of preparation.

"We work at defense every single day," said Sourlis. "We like to think it’s the difference between us and everyone else.

"Our defense starts our offense," he added. "We get a consistent effort from our defense every game. That’s our staple."

Shore (15-12) saw that consistency first-hand and were never in the game, trailing 19-2 after one quarter and by 25 points (31-6) at halftime. Leading scorer Carissa Zambrano, the Blue Devils’ 5-11 center, never had the chance to get her team in the ball game.

Every time she got the ball in the paint, the Bulldog defense collapsed around her preventing her from getting a good look at the basket. She would be held to just a single point.

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Jeannie Danowitz heads to the basket after a steal against Shore Regional in the Central Jersey Group I final on Monday at Delaware Valley Regional High School.

Planer and Jeannie Danowitz put great pressure outside on the ball and play the passing lanes well, while Jessie Geltzeiler’s versatility enables her to defend a number of positions.

Center Chrissy Fisher and forward Jody Robbins are rock solid underneath and control the boards.

"We’ve been holding teams well under their scoring average," Planer noted.

As awesome as the Bulldogs were on defense, it was the offense that began the game on all cylinders with everyone taking and hitting the open shot. That made Shore’s task impossible.

"Everyone contributed tonight," said Planer. "The last couple of games everyone has been shooting well. It hasn’t been just a couple of players. It’s been a team effort and that’s what we need."

Fisher, who did a fine job controlling Zambrano in the paint, also flashed some post-up moves of her own and led the team with 13 points, including eight in the first quarter.

Planer knocked down 12 and played her usual, steady floor game.

Geltzeiler scored five of her six points in the first quarter, including a three, as time expired.

For the Bulldogs, the title was a long time coming. They are ranked as one of the top teams in the state but had no titles to show for it.

They lost three times to Red Bank Catholic, the No. 1 team in the state, and once to defending state champion St. John Vianney.

The losses to RBC were in the finals of the Casey Tournament and in two regular season games in the Shore Conference Class C South Division. The Caseys were responsible for costing the Bulldogs two championships.

They were not about to let a third chance slip away.

"All year we’ve been looking to fill the wall with a championship and now we’ve done it," said Planer. "But it’s not over yet. We still want to keep on playing."

Rumson’s next quest is the Group I state title (the final is Sunday at the Dunn Center in Elizabeth) and if victorious there, on to the Tournament of Champions which begins on Wednesday.

Rumson’s march to the state sectional title got easier with each step. The Bulldogs opened with a 41-31 decision over Spotswood. Next came Colts Neck on Saturday, and the Bulldogs romped 51-18, followed by the 47-15 final over Shore. In three games, Rumson has given up just 64 points.

Sourlis attributed the impressive march to the title to the team’s schedule. Rumson has gone out of its way to play quality competition.

"We played a tough out-of-conference schedule to prepare us for now," said Sourlis.

The Bulldogs have been prepared for all challenges to date and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rumson playing in the TOC next week.

The Bulldogs’ Group I semifinal game on Wednesday against Wildwood ended too late to be included in this week’s