By BRIAN CUNNIFF
HADDONFIELD — A player known mostly for her defense scored two of the most important baskets for the Middle Township High School girls basketball team Saturday.
Maddie Barber’s pair of critical second-half field goals and her stellar defense on Haddonfield’s top scorer helped the Lady Panthers rally from a seven-point halftime deficit for a 36-26 win over Haddonfield in a South Jersey Group II semifinal game.
The victory places third-seeded Middle into the sectional championship for the second straight season. The Lady Panthers will play at top-seeded Manchester Township, the defending South Jersey champion, on Monday at 5:30 p.m. Manchester Township beat No. 4 Sterling in Saturday’s other semifinal.
Middle lost to Manchester Township in last year’s title game.
“Just to get to a South Jersey final in Group II is an accomplishment in itself,” Middle coach John Leahy said. “The kids know what to expect. We’ve been talking about getting to this game all year. There’s a reason we played the schedule we did this year, and that was to be ready for what we’re going to face Monday night. We’ll put a plan together, have a good practice tomorrow and then go give it everything we have.”
Barber’s layup off an offensive rebound with a little more than two minutes to play in the third quarter gave Middle its first lead of the game. Then, early in the fourth quarter, Barber scored from the Middle of the lane while being fouled to help extend her team’s advantage. She sank the ensuing free throw.
“Maddie’s stickback and then that three-point play were the two biggest plays of the game,” Leahy said.
Barber was also instrumental in limiting junior Haddonfield star Keegan Douglas to just seven points. Douglas, who entered the game averaging 20.6 points per contest, shot 3 for 22 from the floor. Douglass did not score after the first quarter.
“I’m so happy for her because she does all the dirty work that sometimes only coaches appreciate,” Leahy said. “I’m really happy for that kid.”
Middle scored just two points in the second quarter and faced a 20-13 deficit at the half. Haddonfield then scored on its first possession of the second half to up its advantage to nine.
Middle dominated the game from there, however. Kate Herlihy heated up with eight points in the third quarter and Barber and Hunter each had baskets as the Lady Panthers closed the period on a 12-1 run to take the lead for good.
“Everything changed once we got the lead,” Herlihy said. “We started making shots and then our defense was amazing.”
Middle held a five-point lead for much of the fourth quarter until Kira Sides and Kate Herlihy combined to make 5 of 6 free throws in the final two minutes.
Middle limited Haddonfield (24-4) to only two second-half field goals. The Lady Panthers outscored their opponent 23-6 after halftime.
Herlihy scored 10 of her game-high 13 points after halftime and also claimed eight rebounds. Sides added 11 points and 11 rebounds. And Aubrey Hunter scored four points and grabbed a game-best 14 rebounds.