WAYNE — Fundamentally solid halfcourt man-to-man defense. That’s West Milford’s calling card and the Highlanders displayed their focus and intensity on the defensive end of the floor for 32 full minutes of suffocating pressure Saturday.
What West Milford received for its all-in effort was a ticket to the Passaic County tournament final four for the first time in more than 10 years after the Highlanders downed Wayne Valley, 42-35, in the quarterfinals.
Fifth-seeded West Milford, which has won four in a row and six of its past seven games, held Wayne Valley scoreless for almost the first four minutes in taking a 9-0 lead. Then after the Indians rebounded to tie the game, 11-11, early in the second quarter, the Highlanders went on a 13-0 run to grab a 24-11 advantage midway through the third period as West Milford did not surrender a point for more than 9 1/2 minutes.
“We got some excellent help-side defense and really executed our game plan very well,” said sophomore guard Michaela McLeod, who scored 11 points to go along with three assists and four steals.
“I knew they were going to come in here with extra effort after the first two times we played them. So we had to bring just as much determination in return — and every one of us did.”
West Milford (14-7) had defeated fourth-seeded Wayne Valley (8-10), 56-52 in overtime, in the Dec. 19 season-opener and also turned back the Indians, 40-37, in their second Big North Independence Division game Feb. 3.
Junior guard Tess Korinko led the way for West Milford with 13 points, four assists and five steals. She nailed a big three-point field goal from deep on the left wing to give the Highlanders a 34-23 advantage with 2:32 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“Tess has come into her own and has been really playing some great two-way basketball,” West Milford coach Ray LaCroix said.
Wayne Valley did rally in the final two minutes, getting as close as 34-30 when junior Sam Vogel made one of two free throws with 1:24 left. McLeod made 3 of 4 foul shots in the final minute to hold off the final Indians push.
Sophomore forward Alexa Simonetti topped Wayne Valley with 15 points and 10 rebounds and Vogel added 10 points and seven rebounds.
West Milford will face top-seeded Eastside at 5:15 p.m. in the semifinals Saturday at Kennedy High School.
EASTSIDE 65, LAKELAND 45 (at Paterson): Senior center Taylor Brown scored a game-high 27 points to lead the Ghosts (17-3) past the eighth-seeded Lancers (9-10). Jen Stoll topped Lakeland with 15 points and Allie Yoffee had 10 points for the Lancers.
KENNEDY 65, WAYNE HILLS 44 (at Paterson): Sophomore forward Tajae Stevenson scored a career-high 29 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked three shots and added three steals to lead the second-seeded Lady Knights (14-7) past the seventh-seeded Patriots.
Taylor Rodriguez led Wayne Hills (12-7), which trailed, 31-25, at halftime, with 13 points. Latice Cunningham added 12 points and O’lesheya Braxton had 10 points for Kennedy. The Lady Knights host Passaic Tech in the semifinals at noon Saturday.
PASSAIC TECH 59, CLIFTON 34 (at Wayne): Senior point guard Brianna Nickson scored a team-high 19 points to help the third-seeded Lady Bulldogs (11-7) down the sixth-seeded Mustangs (14-8). Dashanique Ruffin had 13 points and Cedileth Pacheco contributed 10 points for Passaic Tech. Clifton’s Kelly Douglass led all scorers with 20 points.