By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – The Wildwood Catholic High School girls basketball team made a three-pointer to open the fourth quarter and knocked down a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Middle Township didn’t let the Crusaders score any other points in between.
The Lady Panthers used an 11-0 run in the final frame to turn a five-point deficit into an eventual 36-33 victory in yet another classic contest between the two rivals that was decided in the final minute.
Trailing 25-20 after Wildwood Catholic’s El McCabe hit a three-pointer early in the fourth period, Middle’s Jada Elston hit a three-pointer of her own and later fed teammate CC DiMauro for a layup to tie the game. Elston then made a shot in the lane to give Middle its first lead of the period, before Hannah Cappelletti made both ends of a one-and-one opportunity with 1:01 remaining to up Middle’s lead to 34-30. Elston went on to make two free throws with 19 seconds to go, before Wildwood Catholic’s Destiny Wallace set the final score with a three-pointer at the buzzer.
“We talked before the game about how when you’re playing a really good team, you have to be able to take punches and reply,” Middle coach John Leahy said. “They made their run and we responded. We got a couple big baskets. We used our high screen and Jada made a couple really good decisions with the ball and set some people up. We got good shots and we finished plays.”
Elston, a senior guard, finished with 15 points to lead Middle, getting seven of them in the fourth quarter.
“There’s no better teacher than experience. You can talk about what this game is about all you want, but until you’re on the floor and you feel it and you feel the intensity of it, you truly don’t know what it is. To have Jada as a senior, and she’s probably played eight or nine games against Wildwood Catholic now, that’s definitely beneficial for us,” Leahy said.
McKenzie Palek added 10 points for Middle.
Middle improved to 11-3 overall, 5-1 in the ultra-competitive Cape-Atlantic National Conference. Wildwood Catholic dropped to 11-2, 4-2.
Kaci Mikulski scored 12 points for Wildwood Catholic.
“I don’t know the last time John and I coached against each other when it’s been a bad game,” Wildwood Catholic coach Steve DiPatri said. “They’re always great games. Everyone’s prepared. … Sometimes it’s a matter of how the ball bounces on a given night.”