By BRIAN CUNNIFF
NORTH WILDWOOD – The Middle Township High School girls basketball team landed a nice jab on Wildwood Catholic Academy at the start of Thursday’s game.
The Crusaders responded with a haymaker.
After Middle secured a 6-2 lead to start the game, Wildwood Catholic responded with a 16-0 run, eventually led by as many as 15 points in the second quarter and later held off several Lady Panther challenges to post a 53-43 victory.
The win gives Wildwood Catholic (14-4 overall, 10-0 Cape-Atlantic United Conference) its first outright regular-season conference title since 2016. Wildwood Catholic shared United Conference championships with Middle in 2017 and 2020.
For quite a few years, Wildwood Catholic and Middle Township were by far the class of the division. But league realignment placed competitive programs such as Egg Harbor Township, Our Lady of Mercy and Hammonton into the division this season.
“It’s great to win it because it’s a very competitive division,” Wildwood Catholic coach Steve DiPatri said. “I think it’s the deepest division in the Cape.”
Kaci Mikulski scored seven points and Ella McCabe added five to fuel Wildwood Catholic’s 16-0 run to close the first quarter. Middle scored a field goal on its first possession of the game, then didn’t get another until almost 1 ½ minutes into the second quarter.
“We made some stops defensively and we turned them over and I thought we ran the floor really well and knocked down some open looks,” DiPatri said.
Middle, of course, didn’t go away. A banked three-point basket by Lynasia Harris brought Middle to within nine at halftime. The Lady Panthers went on to cut their deficit to five points on four different occasions in the third and fourth quarters but could get no closer.
“We preach to our players, ‘Next play, next play, play with poise,’” DiPatri said.
Wildwood Catholic went 11 for 12 from the foul line in the fourth quarter, making their first 11 attempts.
“We practice foul shooting every day,” DiPatri said, “It’s an important component to what we do and the kids stepped up and did what they had to.”
Mikulski led four Wildwood Catholic players in double figures with 14 points. McCabe, Kimmy Casiello and Ava Vogdes each added 10. Carly Murphy chipped in nine.
Jada Elston paced Middle with 15 points. Brianna Robinson added 10.