By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – The Middle Township High School girls basketball team passed its first tough conference test.
The Lady Panthers used terrific defense and rebounding and pulled away with a big second-half run to post a 52-38 victory over Hammonton in a Cape-Atlantic United Conference contest Monday evening.
After Hammonton cut what was once a 13-point deficit to five midway through the third quarter, Middle went on an 18-5 run to swell its lead to as high as 18 points at 48-30 midway through the fourth quarter.
“In the third quarter, I thought we had a little lapse and we just weren’t rebounding,” Middle coach John Leahy said. “But then we dug in at the defensive end and we started rebounding, and that allowed us to get out in transition and get some easy baskets.
“We like to create tempo with our press and we got away from that but I thought for the most part we did a nice job on the glass against a big team. We really started rebounding better late in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter.”
Junior Jada Elston made 11 of 14 free throws and led Middle with 21 points. She also had a team-high eight rebounds. Junior Mia Elisano added nine points and six rebounds.
Hammonton might not be considered a favorite in the CAL United but the Blue Devils are certainly a contender. Junior Emma Peretti, one of the top post players in the CAL, led all scorers with 22 points for Hammonton.
“That’s a good team,” Leahy said. “We certainly did not expect to roll over them. Peretti is very tough down low. They play tough and they’re going to have a lot of wins. This is a really good win for us.”
Middle (2-0) also got a major spark off the bench from junior C.C. DiMauro, who added six points and often disrupted Hammonton’s flow offensively due to her quick feet and active hands.
“She gives us a lot of energy off the bench,” Leahy said. “She’s so active. She gets deflections, she gets steals and she helps us get out in transition. Between her and Brianna (Robinson), we need them to help us get out and get easy baskets. We can’t play the whole game in the halfcourt. She’s really embracing this role off the bench. She comes in with that killer instinct. She’s going to be a vital part of our team.”
Robinson added five points and five steals. Junior Kylie Graham chipped in six points despite spending long stretches on the bench due to foul trouble. And freshman Isabelle Toland added five points off the bench.
Middle played without one of its key players in senior Lynasia Harris, who’s battling an Achilles problem and isn’t expected back soon.
“Jada’s not going to get 20-something in every game, so we need Brianna and C.C. to get baskets in transition, we need Kylie and Mia to get some stickbacks, we need to be drawing fouls and knocking down foul shots,” Leahy said. “If we can get a few kids to get six, seven, eight points … it’s really going to help us.”