By BRIAN CUNNIFF
OCEAN CITY — The Wildwood High School girls basketball team had one deficiency to a rather strong resume through 14 games — the Lady Warriors were lacking a signature victory over a rather strong opponent.
Wildwood can now update that resume.
The Lady Warriors used hot shooting from the three-point line, placed three players in double figures and brilliantly handled the the final two minutes of Saturday’s game in a 55-49 victory over Atlantic County Institute of Technology, which had entered the contest with victories in 12 of its first 13 games.
The game was played at Ocean City High School at the 24th annual 97.3 ESPN Girls Shootout showcase event.
Maddie McCracken made all four of her free-throw attempts in the final 21 seconds as Wildwood upped a two-point to an insurmountable six in the final seconds.
McCracken, Wildwood’s lone senior, finished with a team highs of 17 points, five assists and five steals.
Freshman Imene Fathi shot 6 for 10 from the floor and scored 16 points and sophomore Jenna Hans added 13 points and a team-high eight rebounds for Wildwood (13-2). Fathi and Hans combined to shoot 7 for 11 on three-point attempts. Gabby Keoughan, Leah Benichou and Torence Gallo also each made three-point shots.
Wildwood held its largest lead of the game at 32-20 with 5 ½ minutes remaining in the third quarter. ACIT rallied from there, coming back to take a one-point lead at 45-44 with six minutes to go. But the Red Hawks scored only four points the rest of the way. didn’t score again.
A Fathi three-pointer with 5:52 remaining gave Wildwood the lead for good. Fathi also hit a three-pointer earlier in the period and Hans later made an important basket from the middle of the lane.
With Wildwood ahead by two with 16 seconds left, freshman Emily Little grabbed a crucial offensive rebound off of McCracken’s miss of the front end of a one-and-one. Little passed out to McCracken, who was immediately fouled. This time she knocked down both to give Wildwood a two-possession lead at 53-49 with 13 seconds left. McCracken later was fouled again after rebounding the miss of an ACIT three-point attempt and made both free throws to set the final score.
The victory was also important for Wildwood in terms of state playoff seeding. Wildwood is in a battle with a couple of other teams to earn the No. 1 seed for the South Jersey Group I Tournament. Seedings are determined by power-point standings through teams’ first 16 games or Feb. 2, whichever occurs first.
Kayla Sykes, Julianna Montero and Jakyra Williams each scored 10 points for ACIT, whose only previous loss was by just one point to Atlantic City. The Red Hawks out-rebounded Wildwood by 46-31. They grabbed 24 offensive rebounds.