Freshman Steals Show As Mendham Girls Win

Posted: March 25, 1998

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — West Morris Mendham's Kelley Suminski, who was dominating grade-school players a year ago, turned the Tournament of Champions girls' basketball final into her personal showcase last night.

Suminski, a 5-foot-7 freshman, scored 29 points and was named the game MVP as fifth-seeded Mendham held off a furious rally to defeat top-seeded Columbia, 67-62, at Rutgers.

Mendham, which beat Sterling by 58-40 for the Group 2 state championship, finished its season 32-0, while Group 4 champion Columbia ended 30-1. It was the first time in the tournament's 10 years that two teams entered a final undefeated.

``I was really nervous because Columbia is an awesome team,'' said Suminski, who shot 10 for 16 from the field and 9 for 12 from the foul line. ``Once I made a few shots, I settled down.''

Mendham became the first public school to win the girls' Tournament of Champions since 1990, when JFK-Paterson beat St. John Vianney, 70-47.

Columbia, which trailed by 49-32 midway through the third quarter, made a valiant comeback, cutting the lead to 61-57 on a short jumper by Marcie Dickson with 54 seconds left.

Suminski then made one of two free throws. Columbia's Jazmine Wright, a 5-foot-10 Syracuse recruit, missed a three-pointer on the next possession. The Minutemen then sealed the win when Yale recruit Jamie Riposta sank two free throws, extending the lead to 64-57 with just 26 seconds left.

Mendham, which hasn't lost since falling to Haddonfield, 68-63, in last year's Group 2 state final, didn't have a starter taller than 5-8 and appeared to be in serious trouble when Columbia, pounding the ball inside at will, took a 13-6 lead midway through the first quarter.

Then Mendham employed a full-court press, and the Cougars had no answer.

Columbia, which beat Haddonfield, 61-49, to advance to the final, committed 14 first-half turnovers, including nine in the second quarter, when it was outscored by 19-6.

Molly Creamer, a 5-7 junior, scored nine points in the second quarter while Suminski added six in the period and 12 in the half.

With the score tied at 21-21, Mendham scored 13 unanswered points and 15 of the final 17 to take a 36-23 halftime lead.

Mendham shot 30 for 39 from the foul line, while Columbia was 6 for 7. Another key was turnovers, with Mendham committing 12 to Columbia's 21.

``This hasn't sunk in yet,'' Suminski said. ``I'm sure it will in time, but this is just unbelievable.''

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