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Lincoln’s girls make historic first-ever state sectional title; North Bergen’s Pace makes history as female medal winner

The Lincoln High School girls’ basketball team celebrated the school’s first-ever NJSIAA state sectional championship by defeating Secaucus, 43-41, in thrilling fashion. Not only was it the first-ever state title for the Lincoln girls, but it was the first state sectional girls’ basketball championship for any Jersey City public school.
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The Lincoln High School girls’ basketball team celebrated the school’s first-ever NJSIAA state sectional championship by defeating Secaucus, 43-41, in thrilling fashion. Not only was it the first-ever state title for the Lincoln girls, but it was the first state sectional girls’ basketball championship for any Jersey City public school.

Secaucus’ Lyndsey Ross unleashed a 25-foot desperation shot in the waning seconds of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II sectional championship game and Lincoln’s Alaisha Mumford couldn’t bear to look at it.

Already on the floor after failing to pick up a charging foul on Secaucus’ brilliant point guard Damaris Rodriguez, Mumford just stayed on the floor as Ross put up the prayer.

“When it left her hands, it looked perfect,” Mumford said. “So I just closed my eyes. I didn’t know if she made it or not. I was ready to cry. I couldn’t open my eyes to watch it, because I thought it was going in.”

As it turned out, Ross’ attempt rolled around the rim and eventually fell out, giving Lincoln a 43-41 victory.

“By the reaction of the crowd, I didn’t know at first if it went in or not,” Mumford said. “Then I heard my teammates screaming, ‘We won! We won!’ That’s when I knew for sure we won and I opened my eyes to look at the scoreboard.”

Because the two local teams were facing each other again for the second time in a matter of three weeks, there was an air of familiarity.

But this time, there was more at stake than a berth in the Hudson County Tournament championship game. This time, one of the two teams was going to be crowned a state sectional champion for the very first time. So there was history on the line.

“It feels great, because my name will forever live in Lincoln High School,” said Mumford, the senior point guard who had five points and four assists in the victory. “We said from the beginning of the season that we wanted to win the state championship this year. We wanted to complete that goal.”

It capped a tremendous legacy for Mumford, who was the Most Valuable Player in the Hudson County Tournament finale last year as a junior, ironically defeating Secaucus in the title game. Now, Mumford helped the Lions win the school’s first-ever state sectional title. A county crown one year, a state title the next. Yes, that’s certainly a way to be remembered forever.

The victory also allowed Lincoln to become the first Jersey City public school to ever be crowned as a state sectional champion. The Lions reached the title game of the state sectional four times in the last seven years, but were turned away each time prior to facing Secaucus.

For the Patriots, it was the fourth straight year that they lost in the state sectional final and the sixth time in the last 12 years. So it was particularly heartbreaking for head coach John Sterling and his Patriots, who finished the season at 24-4, with half of the losses coming at the hands of the Lions (23-5).

“I was comfortable playing them again,” Mumford said about facing Secaucus for a second time in three weeks. Lincoln defeated Secaucus, 49-45, on Feb. 19 to advance to the Hudson County Tournament championship game, where the Lions were upended by Hudson Catholic.

“We wanted to be able to go back-to-back,” Mumford said. “But since we won the states, no one cares about the county anymore. We were the first ones from Lincoln to win the states. That’s what matters. It’s a great feeling.”

Lincoln head coach Tommy Best admitted that there was a different air about the state tournament victory.

“I think because we were playing in their building, it was different,” Best said. “I think because we just beat the No. 1 seed [Newark Tech] in the semifinals, it was different. And we knew Secaucus was going to come out after us. We had to play one of our best games of the season.”

The Lions also had to pull out a little magic, because they trailed, 33-19, late in the third quarter.

“We went full court, man-to-man and we started to turn them over,” Best said. “We needed to get some defensive stops. We started creeping closer and closer and we then got the lead.”

Senior forward Daniya Darby was the star for the Lions, scoring 20 points and grabbing eight rebounds. It was Darby’s conventional three-point play with seven seconds left that gave the Lions the margin of victory.

Best was asked what he said to his team when they fell behind by 14 in the fourth quarter.

“I told them that there was a lot of time left,” Best said. “I told them that we just needed to get some stops defensively. If we did that, then we could let the shots fall where they may.”

Or in the case of the last shot, where they may not.

“I’m glad that we were able to make history,” Best said. “We’ve been battling so hard over the last eight years. I thought of all the different things we’ve been through as a team, all the battles we had. It really didn’t hit me until after the game was over. To see that last shot go up, then look like it was going in and came back out. I didn’t want to get beat at the buzzer. I’m glad we won the way we did.”…

For the Patriots, the loss ended the career of brilliant senior Amanda Ulrich, who led the way with 16 points and seven rebounds. Ulrich ended her career with an astounding 2,224 points, the highest point total in the school’s history, both for boys and girls.

Ulrich’s 2,224 points ranks fifth all-time among girls’ basketball scorers in Hudson County history, trailing Kim McDonough of Harrison (2,760), Kim Lee of St. Anthony (2,387), Tara Walker of Marist (2,376) and Adrienne Goodson of Bayonne (2,333). That’s a great group of players who Ulrich will be forever remembered with…

It was a tremendous day of basketball for Hudson County with seven local teams, three boys’ teams and four girls’ teams, all playing for state sectional titles across the state.

Lincoln, Hudson Catholic and victorious Union City were all finalists in their respective boys’ state sectionals while Weehawken, Bayonne, Secaucus and victorious Lincoln played for state sectional titles in girls’ basketball. Hudson County never had a more representative day in NJSIAA history than it did this year. All of those teams deserve a ton of credit for their respective successful seasons…

In the historic girls’ wrestling state tournament, North Bergen’s Amanda Pace will be forever remembered as the first-ever girl to win a medal at the NJSIAA state championships  at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The NJSIAA, the governing body of scholastic sports in New Jersey, sanctioned girls’ wrestling for this winter.

As reported here last week, the freshman Pace qualified to compete in the initial girls’ wrestling state tournament at Boardwalk Hall and advanced all the way to the finals of the 147-pound class, where she dropped a tough 6-3 decision to Gabby Miller of Monroe.

Pace will get another chance to make history next year.

Brianna Cervantes of Secaucus also competed at the girls’ state championships in Atlantic City. Cervantes wrestled in the 100-pound weight class…–Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com