West Orange HS girls basketball team captures first Essex County Tournament championship

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WEST ORANGE, NJ – Essex County features a slew of talented high school girls basketball teams.

West Orange stands above them all.

Behind a tenacious defensive effort and the terrific duo of senior guard Mya Bembry and freshman guard Kiley Capstraw, the third-seeded West Orange HIgh School girls basketball team held off a stingy Immaculate Conception of Montclair team, 36-25, to win its first Essex County Tournament championship in the 45-year history of the event.

The Penn State-bound Bembry, one of the top seniors in the state,scored 11 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. Capstraw led all scorers with 18 points, with two 3-pointers and seven free throws, along with seven rebounds for head coach Caniece Williams’ team, which won its seventh straight game and improved to a 20-3 overall record.

WOHS jumped out to a 11-5 lead at the end of the first quarter. The second quarter was a low scoring affair as Immaculate, seeded fifth, outscored WOHS, 4-2, to cut it to 13-9 at the half. Immaculate made things tighter in the third quarter, trimming the Mountaineers’ lead to 19-17 going into the fourth quarter. But the Mountaineers dominated the final quarter, outscoring Immaculate, 17-8, to seal the program’s first ECT title.

Sophomore guard Mackenzie Dover had six points and three steals; senior guard Ebony Odom Barnes had five rebounds; sophomore guard Kaya Schultz contributed three rebounds and three assists and senior guard Bianca Fede had one rebound.

Immaculate, which upset two-time defending champion and top-seeded Newark Tech, 56-39, in the ECT semifinals doubleheader, moved to a 19-6 record. Newark Tech was denied a fourth straight trip to the ECT final.

WOHS appeared in its second ECT final in three years; which are their only ECT final appearances.

Two days earlier, the Mountaineers upset second-seeded University, 41-29, in the ECT semifinals doubleheader at Weequahic HS in Newark. Bembry scored 25 points, pulled down 16 rebounds and blocked five shots as the Mountaineers denied University’s bid for a second straight ECT final appearance. Capstraw had six points and eight rebounds; Dover had six points and four rebounds and Barnes had four points.

Two of the Mountaineers’ three losses have come against University. In the two other Super Essex Conference-American Division meetings, University won, 44-40, Jan. 10, to end the Mountaineers’ eight-game winning streak to start the season. University won the second meeting, 58-30, Feb. 5. The Mountaineers’ other loss was to Newark Tech, 66-33, Jan. 17 in a divisional game, but West Orange avenged that loss with a 60-57 win on Feb. 14 at Newark Tech.

The Mountaineers are now setting their first sights on defending their NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group 4 state tournament championship. WOHS, seeded No. 1, will host No 16 seed Bergen Tech in the first round Feb. 25. The winner will face either No. 9 East Orange or No. 8 Fair Lawn, in the quarterfinals Feb. 27. Ridgewood is the No. 2 seed, Randolph is the No. 3 seed and Livingston is seeded fourth. Last season, the Mountaineers won their first ever sectional title.

NOTES – In the 2017 ECT final, WOHS fell to Newark Tech, 55-53, in overtime as Newark Tech won it on a fast-break layup at the buzzer.

Immaculate Conception competes in the SEC-Liberty Division. Newark Tech lost to East Orange in the 2016 final before winning the past two ECT titles, beating West Orange in 2017 and University last season.

Photos by Steve Ellmore

West Orange HS vs. Immaculate Conception, ECT final, Feb. 23