EAST ORANGE, NJ – The East Orange Campus High School girls varsity basketball team made an inspiring run in the postseason.
The ninth-seeded Jaguars went on the road and pulled off two upsets, including one against recently-crowned Essex County Tournament champion West Orange.
The Jaguars almost made it back to another sectional final, but unfortunately, dropped a heartbreaking 33-30 decision at fifth-seeded Bloomfield in the semifinals of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group 4 state tournament in front of a raucous crowd at Bloomfield HS.
EOCHS tied it 30-30 on a free throw. Following a timeout, Bloomfield junior Samantha Columna took an inbounds pass and drove furiously upcourt before draining a tie-breaking three-pointer with seven seconds left. EOCHS scrambled upcourt for one final shot, but the shot was no good as Bloomfield held on for the win.
The Jaguars nevertheless had another successful season, finishing with a 14-11 record.
EOCHS, with head coach Derrick Johnson back at the helm following a one-year hiatus, was seeking its sixth sectional final appearance in the last seven years. They reached a sectional final for five straight seasons from 2013 to 2017. Without Johnson, that streak was broken last season. They won three titles in that span – North 2, Group 4 in 2013 and 2016 and North 1, Group 4 in 2015. They were runner-up in North 2, Group 4 in 2014 and in North 1, Group 4 in 2017.
The Jaguars stunned top-seeded and defending champion West Orange HS, 55-45, in the quarterfinals Feb. 27 at WOHS. West Orange was coming off its first-ever Essex County Tournament championship.
Senior Lakel Willis had 19 points and five rebounds and sophomore Destiny Battle had 16 points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists to lead the Jaguars.
EOCHS led 22-21 at the half and maintained control in the second half,outscoring WOHS, 17-14, in the third quarter and 16-10 in the fourth quarter.
Senior Brianna Mills and junior Brianna Turner each had eight points and freshman Triniti Haskins had four points, five rebounds and three steals.
Mya Bembry, a senior guard who will play at Penn State next year, had 21 points for WOHS in her final game. West Orange ended its season with a 21-4 record.
The victory was sweet redemption for the Jaguars, who had lost to West Orange in the three previous meetings this season. In the season opener, EOCHS lost to WOHS, 41-30, at EOCHS, Dec. 14 in a Super Essex Conference-American Division game. EOCHS lost to WOHS, 52-35, Jan. 22 at West Orange in the second divisional meeting.
In the ECT quarterfinals, the sixth-seeded Jaguars nearly upset third-seeded West Orange, which squeaked past EOCHS, 46-44, Feb. 16 at WOHS. West Orange then upset second-seeded University, 41-29, in the semifinals and defeated fifth-seeded Immaculate Conception of Montclair, 36-25, in the final at Essex County College, Feb. 23.
In 2017, EOCHS also upset West Orange in the North 1, Group 4 semifinals before losing to Morristown in the final.
Editor’s note: This article was corrected. EOCHS was runner-up in North 1, Group 4 in 2017, not in North 2.
Photos by Jerry Simon
East Orange Campus vs. Bloomfield, North 1, Group 4 state semifinals.