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A COMEBACK FOR THE AGES: Wildwood rallies for OT win

Seniors Emily Little (left) and Ava Troiano each scored 20 points — career highs for both — to help the Wildwood High School girls basketball team rally from a 20-point third-quarter deficit to beat Woodstown in overtime in a South Jersey Group I semifinal.


WILDWOOD – Twenty years from now, people will still be talking about what took place early Saturday evening in the Wildwood High School gymnasium.

Twenty years from now, people still may not believe it, either.

Wildwood’s girls basketball team completed a comeback for the ages, rallying from a 20-point deficit midway through the third quarter to stun Woodstown, 74-71, in overtime in a South Jersey Group I quarterfinal contest.

“My head still hurts from what happened,” Wildwood senior captain Imene Fathi said after the game while shaking her head. “I have no idea how we came back but we did. We just kept pushing and it came out in our favor.”

The win puts Wildwood (22-4), the top seed in the tournament, in the South Jersey Group I final for the third straight time. The Lady Warriors will host No. 2 Woodbury in the title game Monday at 5 p.m. It’s a rematch of the 2020 South Jersey title game, which Woodbury won.

“We lost to Woodbury two years ago and now we get the chance to play them again so we’re looking for redemption,” Fathi said. “We need to work hard but hopefully it’ll come out in our favor. We just have to play our game.”

Wildwood also lost in the sectional title game in 2019. State playoffs were not held in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Talia Bottavio’s steal and layup put Woodstown ahead at 48-28 with exactly four minutes to play in the third quarter, the Lady Warriors seemed doomed.

But following a time out, Wildwood finally got going.

Wildwood finished the period on a 12-4 spurt, as senior forward Emily Little began asserting herself in the paint. She scored six points during the run. Freshman guard Macie McCracken, who had scored just two points in the first half, added four points in the period.

That set the stage for one of the most exciting fourth quarters in the history of Cape May County high school girls basketball.

McCracken’s right-wing three-pointer with 3:39 to play capped a 7-0 spurt that brought Wildwood within three at 57-54. But Woodstown responded with six straight points of its own to take its lead to nine at 63-54 with 2:25 remaining.

Again, Wildwood did not go away.

Sophia Wilber made two free throws – banking both off the backboard – before Ava Troiano’s floater in the lane with 1:13 to go brought Wildwood within five. Little’s layup with 46 seconds remaining made the score 63-60.

Then, on a night when Wildwood wasn’t at its best defensively, the team made the two biggest defensive plays of the game.

Wilber stole an inbound pass and quickly made a layup to cut the Woodstown lead to one. On the Wolverines’ next possession, Fathi picked up a steal and made a layup with 23 seconds remaining to give Wildwood its first lead of the game.

Battavio made a free throw to tie the game for Woodstown and Wildwood survived two missed foul shots and a missed shot at the buzzer by the Wolverines to make it to overtime at 64-64.

“I felt good when we got it to overtime,” Fathi said. “We went to the huddle and everyone was really happy. With the fans in the stands clapping and cheering us, it was great.”

Troiano scored six points in the extra session, Benichou added a basket and Fathi sank two free throws for Wildwood, which never trailed in overtime. Woodstown missed a desperation three-pointer with two seconds remaining, with Fathi claiming the game’s final rebound. When the buzzer sounded, Wildwood’s players, coaches and fans from the student section stormed the court for a wild celebration.

Little and Troiano each finished with 20 points, career highs for both. Little also gathered 13 rebounds, eight on the offensive end. Fathi added 16 points and McCracken chipped in nine.

“Ava and Emily definitely stepped up,” Fathi said. “They kind of carried us. They took me out and they took Macie out and we could have stopped there but Ava and Emily carried us. Soph and Mya were great, too. Nobody gave up and we came out with the win.”

Woodstown built its big lead through remarkable outside shooting and a triangle-and-two defense on Fathi and McCracken that flummoxed the Lady Warriors for 2 ½ quarters. The Wolverines made 8 of their first 10 attempts from three-point range and also earned easy baskets in transition as Wildwood struggled mightily on both ends of the floor.

Senior sensation Riley Fulmer poured in 29 points for Woodstown (21-7). She was 6 for 8 from three-point range. Battavio added 16 points and Donalson chipped in 13, including four three-pointers.

But all that offense wasn’t enough for Woodstown as Wildwood found a way by scoring 46 points over the game’s final 16 minutes for one of the most exciting victories in program history.