By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — When Reese Downey came into Absegami High School last fall as a freshman, Braves girls basketball coach Bobby Lasko had visions of her completely dominating the league as the type of player who can take over a game with ball-handling, defense, the ability to get to the rim and also knock down the long range shot.
Downey came into high school with the type of skill set that meant Lasko wasn’t going to have to wait until she was a junior or senior to see those kinds of performances. He saw one Saturday morning, as the phenom completely took over the Braves’ Cape-Atlantic League Tournament quarterfinal matchup against host and No. 2 seed Ocean City.
After a slow start, Downey poured in 22 points, nailing six 3-pointers and leading the seventh-seeded Braves to a 44-30 come-from-behind victory — Absegami’s first ever in the league tournament.
“I didn’t know that until today,” Downey said of the landmark victory. “I’m excited to play whoever we play next, I think it’s Wildwood Catholic. I think if we play the same way we played today, we’ll be fine.”
Absegami (14-8) fell behind by a bunch early, trailing 19-11 after Ocean City (14-8) went on a 7-0 run to start the second quarter. Lasko called a timeout, and after that is when Downey’s 3-point barrage started. She sank one to pull the Braves to within 19-14 going into halftime, and in the third quarter she hit one to get Absegami to within 21-19, then gave the Braves the lead for good with another three at the 2:52 mark. That put the Braves up 24-23, and senior Chi Chi Wokocha drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the arch to push the lead to 30-25 early in the fourth quarter. Wokocha had passed up a similar shot in the third quarter and Lasko made it clear he wanted her to fire away from outside if given the opportunity.
“We talked about that spot and that’s a shot we want her to take. She didn’t do that in the third quarter, but she’s such a great kid and knocked one down (later),” Lasko said.
“I basically told (Downey), ‘it’s your game to win. If they’re going to play zone on us, you have to break the zone.’ I thought, also, Chi Chi hitting that big three. We talked about that with her, the girl was two feet off of her and I said, ‘hey, if you’re in that spot, you have to knock it down,’” he added. “We weren’t used to a team holding the ball that long, but we adjusted well and did a good job of containing them. It’s a big win for us.”
Ocean City got a huge 3-pointer from Marin Panico to pull to within 30-28, but Absegami answered with a 10-0 run — highlighted by an inside bucket from senior Gelasia Nurse and another three from Downey — to pull ahead 40-28 with 3:35 remaining.
Lasko said the big stage of postseason basketball doesn’t seem to be affecting Downey at all.
“She’s just ice cold. The funny thing is, she’s the most unselfish kid in the world. She doesn’t want to shoot, you have to make her shoot. In the fourth quarter we were going to change the offense and she said, ‘no, just keep the ball in my hands.’ And I said, ‘not a problem!’ he said. “In girls basketball, if a team goes into a zone and you’re not hitting your shots, it could be a long day. Our kids can shoot the three and we showed that today. We’re going to have to do more of that on Thursday. Downey has incredible range and I said at the beginning of the year that if teams were going to let her shoot, we’re going to take it. We’ll ride and die by that.”
“I felt great and right after we had a timeout (in the second quarter) — we talked about slowing it down and running the play — and everything just got open from there,” Downey said. “In the beginning, I wasn’t as confident because I actually rushed shots, but I usually do well in this gym and I finally made some.”
Wokocha, senior guard Jackie Fortis and freshman Julia Hartman also hit threes as the Braves racked up nine in the game, and Wokocha and Gianna Baldino combined to grab 14 of Absegami’s 24 rebounds. Fortis added seven assists, four blocked shots and a steal as well.
“For these seniors, this is a big deal for us,” Lasko said. “We’ve never won a CAL (Tournament) game before and to come in here, in this gym, and beat a team I’ve never beaten before, it’s really big for us. Hopefully we can keep the momentum going into Thursday.”
What’s next: Absegami takes on Wildwood Catholic in the CAL Tournament semifinals on Thursday at Atlantic City High, time TBA.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays