By BRIAN CUNNIFF
WILDWOOD — The Wildwood High School girls basketball team’s formula for success in these state playoffs has come through its stingy man-to-man defense.
Nothing changed in that regard on Friday.
The Lady Warriors held Palmyra without a field goal for more than 16 minutes of game action and posted a 37-23 victory in a South Jersey Group I semifinal game.
Wildwood (24-5), the second seed in the tournament, will host No. 4 Woodbury in the South Jersey title game Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. The game will air live on 98.7 The Coast radio. Woodbury was a 45-44 winner over top-seeded Glassboro in the other semifinal.
For Wildwood, the trip to the sectional title game is its third in four seasons. The Lady Warriors lost last year’s title game to Haddon Township after beating the Lady Hawks for the 2017 championship. Wildwood will be seeking its 10th South Jersey title overall. The program is 9-3 all-time in sectional title games.
Against Palmyra (27-2), which had won 26 straight entering the game, Wildwood trailed 4-0 at the start but reeled off a 10-0 run to take the lead for good. After holding a 12-10 advantage after the first quarter, Wildwood outscored Palmyra 8-2 in the second quarter to take a 20-12 halftime lead.
Wildwood then dominated the third quarter, holding Palmyra without a field goal and outscoring the Lady Panthers 11-4 in the frame to take a 31-16 lead into the fourth quarter. A basket by Jenna Hans and two free throws by Imene Fathi to start the quarter allowed Wildwood to take its largest lead of the game at 35-16. Palmyra never got closer than the 14-point final margin.
Wildwood held Palmyra without a field goal from the 5:10 mark of the second quarter until the 4:54 mark of the fourth quarter. It’s the third time in as many state playoff games Wildwood has denied its opponents a field goal for long stretches of game time. Over its first two state playoff victories, Wildwood conceded just one field goal combined in the opening halves in comfortable wins over Gateway and Pitman. The Lady Warriors have given up only 55 total points through three state playoff games, an average of 18.3 per game.
Hans led Wildwood with 13 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. Fathi chipped in 10 points, four rebounds and three assists and Winter Favre had six points and six steals.
Wildwood also got significant contributions from some of its role players. Torence Gallo hit a three-pointer that highlighted an 8-2 Lady Warrior run in the second quarter. Maya Benichou, a freshman, earned extra minutes through stellar defensive play. And Gabby Keoughan drew a critical charge when Wildwood was pulling away in the second half.
Wildwood now faces a Woodbury team it beat earlier this season, the Lady Warriors scoring a 56-51 win at home in mid January in a spirited, physical affair.