Caseys bench the key to a perfect season

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JACKIE POLLACK
Tara McCaig of Red Bank Catholic enjoys her team’s 57-40 victory over Toms River North in the Tournament of Champions final on Tuesday at the Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway.

Lindsey Siegle

The Hub

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ndefeated. 31-0. A perfect record. All year the Red Bank Catholic girls basketball team was playing with high expectations, but somehow that pressure never got to them.

"The team’s character is unbelievable," center Jessica DePalo said. "Every time we’re down by a point, or down by two, or down by five like in the St. John’s game, everyone just keeps their character and believes in each other."

The Caseys’ unfailing faith in each other was tested during the season.

Against St. John Vianney in the Shore Conference final they actually trailed late in the game before coming back for the second win of the season against the Lancers.

In the South Parochial A final, Bishop Eustace put together a run that cut the Caseys’ lead to four points in the fourth quarter, but as quickly as the Crusaders rallied they were out of it again and RBC won the game by 15 points.

Finally, in the TOC semifinal against Willingboro only a last second shot by Brooke Tomovich delivered the 64-63 win.

Through it all DePalo and the rest of the Caseys say they never doubted themselves, a belief they credit to the team’s balance and coach, Joe Montano.

"Mr. Montano would always tell us to ignore whatever was on the outside," Zoltowski said. "All the talking or whatever people think to say about us. When we would play really bad in the first quarter or first half, at halftime we would come in and he would be like, ‘You guys are thinking too much about what the media and everyone else is saying. You just have to concentrate on that (the game).’ I really feel we focused in on that because if we were worrying about being 31-0 and state champs, then we probably wouldn’t be here right now."

While the starting five — DePalo, Tomovich, Lynne Zoltowski, Kelli Talbot and Lindsey Woodfield — do match up favorably with just about every team in the state, it is the RBC bench that always gave the Caseys an edge.

Janine Cappadona, the acknowledged offensive igniter for Montano, Alisa Kresge and Tara McCaig were the players that no other team could match.

"We’ve got the assassin and the accomplice," Montano said of Cappadona and Kresge. "Janine’s the assassin; we turn her loose and she just comes out shooting. And Alisa’s the accomplice because she’s the one who gets her the ball.

"And Tara has really been outstanding, just stepping up and spelling Jessie and Brooke," Montano said. "And the things Tara does away from the ball defensively a lot of people don’t notice. It’s been that way all year long."

McCaig and Jennifer Gizzi are the only players the Caseys will lose to graduation, so the team will undoubtedly hear talk of high expectations for next season.

Freshman Erin Cusmano saw significant time this year and the 5-10 forward will probably be ready to fill the role so well played by McCaig.

The senior, herself, wouldn’t doubt it.

"I think our bench has been progressively improving during the year," McCaig said. "Everyone contributes. I think being able to go to the bench gives everybody more confidence because the starters don’t feel like, ‘Oh my God, the game’s on our shoulders!’ Everyone’s looser and your shots go in because you’re relaxed a little bit more."

That ability to relax and hit their shots could have the Caseys back in the TOC next year.