MORRISTOWN - Something had to give when Bridgeport and St. John Central finally got together on the hardwood in boys' action.
The two rivals met Tuesday night here inside "The Hangar" and the Irish gave the Bulldogs fits for a half until Bridgeport (7-16) pulled away in the second half for a 66-51 Division IV sectional tournament win at Union Local High School.
"At halftime we just talked about playing better on defense," Bridgeport head coach Donnie Cash said. "We knew it was a rival game, and it is what it is. We knew they were going to be pumped up to play us."
ST. JOHN Central’s D.J. Shoemaker (4) looks for room to pass the ball as Bridgeport’s Q.J. Williams and Bailey McGrath (11) apply
pressure. The Bulldogs defeated the Irish Tuesday night at Union Local High School.
St. John Central led 14-13 after one period, but Bridgeport scored 11 of the first 13 points of the second quarter to take a 24-16 lead. However, the Irish came right back with a 10-0 run sparked by sophomore Sean Clemons who came off the bench to score four points and provide solid floor minutes.
"Sean gave us a spark," St. John Central head coach Kevin Lahna said. "He was playing with a heavy heart because his grandfather had passed away this week."
Clemons' two free throws put the Irish (8-15) ahead 28-27 with 1:30 left in the first half, but the Bulldogs' countered with a bucket by Aaron Roth and two charity tosses from Jonathan Kreiter for a 31-28 edge at the half.
The second half belonged all to Bridgeport as it outscored St. John Central 35-23 en route to the win, which propels the Bulldogs into Friday night's sectional semifinal against River.
"We switched to a 3-2 zone to stop their outside shooting a little bit and we got killed there by weakside rebounds quite a few times in the second half," Lahna noted. "That's something that we didn't practice a whole lot of, so to put the kids in that situation, I'll take the blame for that."
The Irish couldn't stop the Bulldogs' trio of Kreiter, QJ Williams and Parker Dyson after the intermission break as they combined for all but three of their team's 35 points.
"We talked at halftime about helping on Shoemaker defensively," Cash said. "He had half of their points in the first half, so we concentrated more on stopping him in the second half."
It worked as the 6-3 senior could only muster seven more points in finishing with a game-high 21. Garrett Holubeck netted eight.
"It's a sad end to a good year," Lahna said. "Some people might look at 8-15 and think that's not a good year, but we're working in the right direction down here. The six seniors that we had this year, it's hard to see them go because they played hard. They are the ones that took the first step in trying to rebuild this program.
"We've got some younger kids that have bought into what we are trying to do, but we need to have a good off-season," he continued.
Kreiter paced Bridgeport with 21 points, while Williams added 15, Dyson 14 and Roth 10. Williams completed his double-double with 10 rebounds.
While St. John Central is preparing for next season, Bridgeport will be back in action Friday when it meets River in a sectional semifinal in Morristown.
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