By BRIAN CUNNIFF
WILDWOOD – The seniors on the Wildwood High School girls basketball team got their redemption Monday evening.
After losses on their home floor in sectional title games as freshmen and sophomores, those seniors pushed the Lady Warriors to their first South Jersey championship since 2017 as Wildwood downed favored Woodbury, 50-38, in front of a rambunctious sellout crowd in the Warrior gymnasium.
The victory moves Wildwood, which was the top seed in the section, into the state Group I semifinal on Wednesday against Central Jersey champion Shore Regional, which beat South Hunterdon, 67-48, on Monday.
With Wildwood holding a double-digit lead in the final seconds, Woodbury elected not to foul. The home crowd roared with delight as time wound down, before rushing the floor to join the players and coaches in a massive celebration in front of the Wildwood bench.
Wildwood led almost from start to finish. The Lady Warriors posted a 16-11 lead after one quarter and extended that advantage to 10 points at 33-23 at halftime when senior point Imene Fathi banked in a three-pointer from the left wing at the second-quarter buzzer. Wildwood finished the period on a 15-5 run, sparked in part by two baskets off offensive rebounds by sophomore forward Sinaia Stroman-Hills.
Wildwood then got a great start to the third quarter when freshman Macie McCracken knocked down a three-point shot while being fouled on the team’s first possession of the second half. She missed the free throw, but went on to make another three-pointer and a layup in the period to help Wildwood take a 41-33 lead into the fourth quarter, despite the Lady Warriors missing all five of their free-throw attempts in the third period.
Wildwood then played a brilliant possession game in the fourth quarter, often taking 30 to 45 seconds off the clock on each possession. When McCracken’s traditional three-point play gave Wildwood an 11-point lead with less than three minutes to go, the team’s fans erupted in joy, sensing victory.
Fathi later found Ava Troiano alone under the Woodbury basket for a layup, putting to rest any thoughts of a Thundering Herd comeback.
McCracken led Wildwood (23-4) with 16 points, scoring 11 in the second half. Fathi added 15 points. She scored just two of them in the second half, coming on a nifty reverse layup in the fourth quarter, but confidently controlled the pace of play over the final 16 minutes with her deft ball handling and smart decision making.
Wildwood held Woodbury’s two leading scorers – junior sensation Alexis Davis and senior forward Nile Miller – well below their season scoring averages. Davis, who entered the game averaging 27.5 points per game, finished with 21 points, scoring just one point in the fourth quarter. Miller, who entered averaging 15.4 points, finished with six.
Wildwood, which lost the 2020 South Jersey title game to Woodbury, made eight three-point shots in the game, six in the first half.
Wildwood’s South Jersey title is the 10th in program history.