A water jug next to the opposing bench took the brunt of Lauren Punk’s force in the first minute of the second half.
The junior forward was chasing a loose ball one second. The next was a blur of cups and puddles that caused a five-minute mop break.
In retrospect, it was something of an omen. Punk, who played the rest of the game with wet socks, and her Bishop Eustace basketball team pummeled Rancocas Valley in the second half of a 53-30 victory Friday night in the semifinals of the South Jersey Invitational Basketball Tournament at Eastern.
The Crusaders advanced to their first SJIBT final, after falling in the semifinals in the last two seasons, where they will be the underdog against Cherokee Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at Eastern.
Cherokee topped Moorestown Friends, 56-43, in the nightcap at Eastern.
"I wanted to win. We hadn’t made it to the championship the last two years, even though we were right there, and people were doubting us this year,” said Punk, who led all scorers with 17 points, including eight in a decisive third quarter.
“I didn’t have the best first half, so I came out and I wanted it it the second half.”
Madison Grubb added 15 points for Eustace, and Katie Kempter added 9.
Kylie Bradford paced RV (13-11) with 9 points.
Bishop Eustace (15-6) took advantage of a severely depleted RV lineup. The Red Devils, who have been banged up most of the season, lost starter Kayla Williams to a season-ending knee injury earlier this week.
RV, though, hung with Bishop Eustace through most of the first half thanks to a strong overall effort and cold shooting by the Crusaders.
The Crusaders (15-6) didn’t find their rhythm until late in the second quarter. They ended the half on a 9-0 run, going into the break with a 19-14 lead, and then completely controlled the second half.
“We just had to stay calm. We’re a young group still, but we’re doing a good job,” said Eustace coach John Considine. “We’re excited to be in the final.”
The nightcap between Cherokee (20-4) and Moorestown Friends (16-5) was a meeting between Cherokee’s Ava and Alexa Therien — daughters of former Flyer Chris Therien — and Moorestown Friends’ Bella Runyan — daughter of former Eagle Jon Runyan.
None of the players disappointed.
Alexa Therien, just a sophomore, dominated the paint. She finished with 23 points and 22 rebounds. She had 15 points and 15 rebounds in the first half alone as her team went into the locker room with a 24-17 lead.
Ava Therien exploded for 9 of her game-high 25 points in the third quarter as her team maintained a comfortable lead. She also chipped in seven rebounds.
Runyan finished with a team-high 18 points while turning in a strong effort on both ends of the floor.
“I knew if we came out strong and got an early lead, we’d be OK,” Alexa Therien said.
“It feels awesome to be back in the championship. It’s a big accomplishment for the team, and hopefully we can secure the win on Sunday.”
Rancocas Valley 9 5 9 7 — 30
Bishop Eustace 8 11 19 15 — 53
RV: Rory Rensel 4, Adriana Agosto 9, Alexis Linton 4, Kylie Bradford 10, Sanaa Parks 3.
BE: Lauren Punk 17, Katie Kempter 9, Brenna McQuillan 3, Madison Grubb 15, Ashley Welde 3, Kaitlyn Deiter 2, McKenzie Racobaldo 1, Michelle Quinn 3.
Cherokee 13 11 13 19 — 56
Moorestown Friends 8 9 12 14 — 43
Cherokee: Alexa Therien 23, Kennedy Wilburn 8, Ava Therien 25.