By Rich Fisher | Correspondent
For the Trenton Catholic Academy girls’ basketball program, a two-year drought is a long time.
At least when it comes to winning a Mercer County Tournament title.
The “drought” ended Feb. 22 at the Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton, when the top-seeded Iron Mikes from Hamilton Township held off 3rd-seeded Pennington, 59-55, in the MCT championship game.
Photo Gallery: TCA Basketball Win
It was TCA’s sixth county crown in nine years. The Mikes won five of six from 2010-15, lost to Notre Dame in the 2016 finals and did not enter last year’s tournament.
“This is just a dream come true,” said senior forward Jada Queen, who earned tournament MVP honors after collecting 30 points and 18 rebounds in the semifinals and finals. “I’ve wanted to play here and win for the longest time. Actually, winning it in my senior year is a dream come true. It feels 100 percent better than I thought. I couldn’t even imagine this feeling.”
At the other end of the spectrum is freshman Jasmine Boyd, who didn’t have to wait to get her first county crown. Boyd scored 10 points off the bench and hit the biggest bucket of the game against Pennington. She was not around the previous two years, but knew things were not very TCA-like.
“This means everything to us,” Boyd said. “We were coming down from a bad stretch last year and the year before. I wasn’t here, but I knew about it. We were happy to get back on the court and win it all. My mindset this year was to come in and play basketball, work as a team.”
The architect of the champion is first-year coach Bob Fusik, who brought years of experience as an assistant to the table. It wrapped up a big week for Fusik, who also won titles with two CYO teams earlier in the week.
“Oh my God, I’m proud of the girls,” Fusik said. “I’m only the coach. They’ve come out since June, they’ve worked very hard and you know what, they deserve it.”
In winning its eighth straight and 14th out of its last 15, TCA (24-2) looked ready to blow things open when it scored 17 straight for a 17-3 lead. Pennington (22-3) held it together, however, and clawed to within 22-18 midway through the second quarter. The Mikes had another spurt left in them and upped the advantage to 37-28 by halftime.
“The ref wasn’t giving us calls our way, so we got a little out of the game,” Queen said. “We had to keep the team calm and in the game, and that’s how we came back.”
The Red Raiders were not finished fighting, however, and got within 56-53 with a minute remaining. TCA got Queen an open baseline jumper, but she shot it over the basket. Boyd was right there for her sixth rebound of the game, and she put it back in to make it 58-53 and provide some much-needed breathing room.
“My mentality was just rebound the ball,” Boyd said. “Coach says do all the little things. I did the best I could. I saw the ball; I grabbed it; I put it right up.”
Boyd’s big play was business as usual for the ninth-grader, Queen and Fusik said.
“Jasmine’s outstanding; her freshman year she is standing out,” said Queen, who finished with 19 points. “I was happy she was there to help me.”
“Jasmine has been unbelievable,” Fusik said. “Jasmine’s been our sparkplug off the bench all year. For a freshman, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
TCA also has a good sophomore in Giana Boulden, who chipped in with 13 points while Kaela Reed scored 5 points and hit a big free throw to make it a two possession game with 11 seconds left. Habiba Elgizawy added two big 3-pointers at key moments.
But the big star, as usual, was TCA’s defense. The Iron Mikes forced 29 turnovers, many of which they turned into points.
“One thing about us, we preach defense, defense, defense,” said Fusik, who was coaching his biggest game in the Arena since serving as an assistant for the Trenton Shooting Stars minor league team in 2001. “If you can play defense, you’re gonna be in every game.”
Queen could not agree more with her coach.
“We work on it in practice,” she said. “We maybe work a little bit on plays, but mostly on defense. Once we get the steal, we go on a fast break, and people can’t really keep up with us.”
Queen is a big reason for that, as she leads the team in steals and scoring.
“Jada’s been unbelievable all year long,” Fusik said. “We always say as Jada goes, we go, and she’s just been unbelievable.”
The Mikes are now hoping to go on a run in the states, and winning a county title is certainly a good momentum builder.
“This gives us a big confidence booster,” Queen said. “We’re a team to be reckoned with. Maybe not last year, but this year we are.”