WOOLWICH TWP. – The assists were more impressive than the buckets, and that’s saying something.
Atlantic City senior guard Naysha Suarez-Rivera scored nine points in Monday’s 57-31 win over Kingsway in their South Jersey Group 4 playoff game. She had four, along with three assists, as the Vikings closed out the first half on a 16-6 run that left them firmly in the driver’s seat.
Atlantic City, the 10th seed in the bracket, will face second-seeded Shawnee in the quarterfinal round. The Renegades defeated Central, 53-30, in their playoff opener.
Suarez-Rivera grabbed a rebound on the baseline in the final seconds of the first quarter and sent a soft pass over the defense that found Alexis Gormley trailing the play in the paint. Gormley’s bucket gave the Vikings a 14-9 lead.
Suarez-Rivera added a drive to the hoop for the first bucket of the second quarter. Her next drive drew the defense to her in the lane, so she sent a no-look pass to Cea-anai Jackson-Williams in the paint for an easy two.
Her lob pass a moment later found Quanirah Montague, who went up between two defenders to make it 20-13 with 3:02 left in the half.
“I like when she plays point guard and she goes to the basket,” Montague said. “Because when I go to the basket, all they do is call charges. I’m a big person, I guess. But she can make those passes, too. She’ll put them right on you.”
It’s actually always been that way.
“I love passing it. I really do,” she said. “I feel like I can add a little something to it. I feel like sometimes a little flashy pass is better than scoring. I used to play with boys, and a lot of times, they’d try to take me away – oh, she’s a girl … I’d just pass it to a boy, and a boy would make it.”
It was central to her game, when her game was played in her native Puerto Rico. When she relocated in her freshman year, she had a useful skill.
It was even more useful than she realized.
“Over there, they’re a lot shorter,” she said, smiling. “I came here, there were a bunch of people towering over me. So that was different. They were definitely aggressive here, and faster. But my coach – ever since freshman year, he’s taken me under his wing, and I’m becoming the player that he knows he sees in me.”
And that player can push a rock.
“On our team, she has that in her game,” Atlantic City coach Jason Lantz said. “She’s had a lot of struggles this year, when the ball just didn’t fall in the hole, but she can get where she wants to get, she’s a great passer. She’s the ultimate teammate. And today she played some defense, too.
“And you ought to see her play softball.”
Monday’s display was strictly indoors, and actually postponed the start of softball season. A 3-pointer by Kingsway’s Ava Valente had the Dragons within a point, at 10-9, with 2:24 left in the first quarter, but while Suarez-Rivera was helping to engineer Atlantic City’s surge, Kingsway missed its first 12 shots of the second quarter.
The Dragons went without a field goal for nine minutes and 27 seconds – until Olivia Ettore’s short jumper made it 22-15 with 57 seconds left in the first half.
The Vikings added a drive to the bucket by Montague and two free throws by Suarez-Rivera, and led by 11 at the half. Kingsway, at that point, had already embarked on another long drought. Six minutes and 36 seconds passed from Ettore’s field goal to Valente’s drive to the hoop that made it 38-19 with 2:21 left in the quarter.
“I just think we realized we could take them away and it would be easier to get those transition points,” Suarez-Rivera said. “We just played defense. We played defense.”
Not their night
A team might overcome a poor shooting night, or an opponent that’s a match-up nightmare.
Kingsway had both to contend with.
“As a seventh seed – one of the things we were pushing for was to get a first-round match-up at home,” Kingsway coach Lamont Robinsons said. “And out of all the teams we were looking at, that was probably the last team we wanted to play. Any time you’ve got a team with as many bigs as they have – you’ve got a guard who can handle the ball and dribble like that, and just a team full of girls who get up and down and scrap, and play tough, it takes a lot to be successful in that situation. So kudos to those girls and the season they’ve had. They get to continue on – best of luck. They’re going to be tough.”
The ride is over for the Dragons, though. Kingsway finished the season 14-13.
“The group of seniors that I have this year were the freshman that I came in with as a (first-year) coach,” Robinson said. “I’ll remember their resilience and their toughness. You have oncourt memories – the big games, the big shots, and some of the performances – but watching these young ladies, going from 14-years-old to 18-year-old young adults. To see the growth, the maturity, the development, and just watching the awesome individuals they’ve become. You know we had a young team this year, and instead of making excuses and letting this team fall to the wayside, they fought, clawed and earned everything that we got this year.”
John A. Lewis is a sports writer for the Burlington County Times, Courier Post and The Daily Journal. E-mail him at [email protected] or follow on Twitter @JohnLewis19. Please consider supporting local journalism with a subscription.
This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: Senior Suarez-Rivera sparks offense and defense for Atlantic City