By BRIAN CUNNIFF
WILDWOOD — There’s a plaque that the Wildwood High School girls basketball team hangs on the wall in the hallway of the entrance to its locker room that says “Lady Warriors” with a basketball on it.
Each time the team’s players go in and out of that locker room during practices and games, they touch the plaque as they go by.
Maddie McCracken touched that plaque for the last time Monday evening.
McCracken’s historic career for the Lady Warriors ended in the most bittersweet fashion. She became only the third high school girls basketball player in Cape May County history to surpass 2,000 career points, but Wildwood fell, 45-39, to Haddon Township in the South Jersey Group I title game.
“Obviously I would have liked to get both accomplishments the same night,” McCracken said. “The ultimate goal was winning South Jersey and if the points came, the points came. Obviously I’m very disappointed but I’m so glad I got to play with this group of people.”
McCracken finished with 22 points in the game, ending her career with 2,001 career points. The only other 2,000-point scorers in county high school girls basketball history are 2002 Wildwood graduate Monica Johnson (3,173) and 2015 Lower Cape May graduate Lauren Holden (2,476).
Wildwood (21-9), the top seed in the section, fell behind 12-3 to start the game but reeled off an 18-2 run to take a 21-14 lead late in the second quarter. But Haddon Township scored the last two baskets of the first half and got the first five points of the second to go ahead 25-23.
The second-seeded Hawks (24-6) never relinquished the lead. They held Wildwood without a field goal in the fourth quarter. McCracken scored all but two of Wildwood’s points in the second half.
McCracken netted the milestone 2,000th point on a free throw with 1:55 left in the game.
Wildwood fell behind by seven at 43-36 but still surged late. A McCracken free throw and two foul shots from Jenna Hans (11 points) cut the deficit to four with under a minute left. The Lady Warriors then stole an in-bounds pass and kicked out to freshman guard Imene Fathi, but her three-point shot that would have cut Haddon Township’s lead to one popped in and out.
McCracken’s storied career ended when she missed a left-wing three-pointer as time expired.
“The one thing I think I can hold head up about is that I know I gave it my all in every game I played,” McCracken said. “It just stinks that it ended one (win) short of our goal.”
The 5-8 McCracken, a four-year starter, finished her career with averages of 17.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists. She was a key member of Wildwood’s South Jersey title team as a sophomore in 2017.
“I’ll definitely remember the people,” McCracken said. “And winning South Jersey my sophomore year and making it this far this year. But definitely all the people here at our school and all the great coaches I got to be coached by.”
McCracken is set to play college basketball at Division III Widener, joining her older sister, Mackenzie, who just completed her sophomore season with the Pride.
Meanwhile, Wildwood will look to regroup for next season. The Lady Warriors return their other eight players. Hans, a junior, Fathi, a freshman, junior Gabby Keoghan and sophomore Leah Benichou were the other regular starters. Sophomore Laila Rios and freshmen Emily Little, Ava Troiano and Torence Gallo also return.
For McCracken, she may have touched the team’s iconic plaque for the last time when she exited the locker room after the loss. But there’s no doubt she left her fingerprints all over Wildwood’s program.