By BRIAN CUNNIFF
NORTH WILDWOOD – The Wildwood Catholic Academy girls basketball team used the free-throw line to seal an important division victory Tuesday evening.
The Crusaders sank 13 of 14 fourth-quarter free-throw attempts – technically, even the miss was a made shot but was wiped away due to a violation – in a 57-44 win over Our Lady of Mercy Academy.
The victory improved Wildwood Catholic to 9-3 overall, 6-0 in the Cape-Atlantic United Division, putting the Crusaders in pole position for the regular-season title.
“We’re where we want to be but we want to continue to keep getting better every day,” Wildwood Catholic coach Steve DiPatri said. “There’s still a long way to go and, with a young team, we need to keep preparing and keep getting better.”
Wildwood Catholic appeared on its way to a comfortable victory, leading by 10 points with a little more than three minutes to play. But costly turnovers led to OLMA cutting the Crusader lead to just four. But Ella McCabe sank two free throws to increase the lead to six. Kimmy Casiello then added four straight and suddenly the lead was back to 10 again.
“Clutch by our kids,” DiPatri said. “Those two Ella hit were big and then Kimmy hit her four, Kaci (Mikulski) and Carly (Murphy) made theirs … We practice free throws every day. Our kids are good foul shooters, no question about it.”
OLMA, a team that had been playing a quick-tempo style with lots of gambling on defense and quick shots on offense, played a more traditional style against Wildwood Catholic, particularly on the defensive end. The Villagers held a 25-22 lead late in the first half, but Wildwood Catholic scored the final five points of the half to take a two-point lead at the break before outscoring OLMA 15-9 in the third quarter.
“It’s the first time they played normal in two years,” DiPatri said, still with a look of surprise on his face after the game. “Luckily enough we had enough Xs and Os in our playbook that we could go to some things.”
Wildwood Catholic used its remarkable scoring balance to build its offense against OLMA. Kaci Mikulski and Carly Murphy each scored 14 points, Casiello added 13 points and McCabe contributed 12 points for the Crusaders. Ava Vogdes added four points and 11 rebounds.
“That speaks to this team,” DiPatri said. “This is a very balanced high school basketball team that on any given night anybody can step up and score. Everybody had big minutes for us tonight. The whole crew.”
Madison Palek scored 10 points for OLMA (5-4, 2-2). The Villagers made four of their first seven three-point attempts, then proceeded to shoot just 2 for 26 from beyond the arc over the remainder of the game. They also turned the ball over 20 times compared to Wildwood Catholic’s 12.