By BRIAN CUNNIFF
VOORHEES — Steve DiPatri called it “fight or flight” time.
When his Wildwood Catholic High School girls basketball team fell behind by 18 points with six minutes to play against one of the top teams in the state, the veteran coach challenged his players during a timeout.
“Once the kids saw the game was getting away from us, the fight or flight phenomenon hit us,” DiPatri said. “That’s when I thought we started playing like the best version of ourselves and we were able to make a game of it until the end.”
The Crusaders cut that 18-point deficit in half but got no closer in what turned into Saturday’s 43-32 loss to unbeaten Cherokee, the top-ranked team in South Jersey by most media polls. The game was played At Eastern Regional High School as part of the South Jersey Basketball Invitational Tournament.
“I thought the character and the teamwork of our group took over,” DiPatri said. “But give all the credit to Cherokee. They’re very good. They took us out of a lot of what we wanted to do. That was the best pressure (defense) we’ve seen this season.”
Wildwood Catholic (19-3) managed just six field goals through three quarters and trailed 32-16 going into the final period. The Crusaders then scored 16 points in the final quarter.
The Chiefs (21-0), the lone remaining unbeaten team in South Jersey, got 16 points from sophomore guard Katie Fricker and 14 points from junior forward Alexa Therien in the win.
“It’s getting toward late February and we’re about to get into our league tournament and the state tournament, so as a coach, these are the kind of games you want to play,” DiPatri said. “It lets you find out some weaknesses you might have and try to correct them going forward.”
Senior forward Gabby Turco scored 16 points for Wildwood Catholic. Her three-pointer started a 7-0 run that prevented Cherokee from running away with the game in the final period.
Turco finished with 15 points to lead Catholic. Marianna Papazoglou added nine.