By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Jackie Fortis and Chi Chi Wokocha, the two seniors in the starting lineup for the Absegami girls basketball team, know their high school careers are now measured in days, not weeks or months or seasons. Maybe that’s the reason for the uptick in their intensity level on Thursday night in what was their final home game in a Braves uniform.

The duo combined for 22 points — as many as the entire Delsea Regional team — as Absegami cruised to a 45-22 victory in the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals. The No. 4 Braves advance to take on top-seeded Mainland Regional, which routed No. 9 Lacey Township in its quarterfinal matchup. No. 2 Timber Creek hosts No. 3 Ocean City in the other semifinal on Saturday.

“Right before the game — our previous game, and today — I told all the girls to play for the seniors because we don’t want to be done yet,” said Fortis, also a star for the Absegami girls volleyball team in the fall. “Obviously, it’s cliché, but I think they all know how much we want it. We love each other so much, we’re literally sisters, and when we’re playing for each other it seems to work out.”

Glory Days photo/Sully

Delsea came in as one of the hottest teams in South Jersey, having won 11 in a row since a loss to Timber Creek on Feb. 1, and the Crusaders jumped out to an early 6-5 lead. They led, 9-8, after a first quarter that featured a couple of press-break buckets from Leila Porter.

But early in the second quarter Absegami (16-9) began to take over. A putback from Wokocha gave the Braves a 10-9 lead and they never trailed again. Gelasia Nurse added a putback, and a jumper from Fortis pushed Absegami’s lead to 15-9, forcing Delsea to take a timeout.

There wasn’t much the Crusaders could do, however, as Gami jumped out to a 19-13 lead by halftime, then outscored Delsea 15-7 in the third quarter to take a commanding 34-20 lead. Freshman point guard Reese Downey, who finished with eight points, three rebounds, four assists and four steals, got the second half started right with a 3-pointer that gave Absegami a 22-13 lead.

Delsea (20-8) got a three from Alli Sieminski with three minutes left in the third quarter to pull to within 26-16, but Absegami closed the quarter on an 8-2 run.

“We’re a team that picks up momentum a lot in the second half. We had a talk and we all just locked into the game in the second half — not that we weren’t locked in before that, but we were like, ‘OK, let’s get it in this third quarter,’” Wokocha said.

“We took our time on offense, and were more physical on defense (in the second half),” Fortis said. “In the first half we were letting their screens dictate the game. They set really good screens, but in the second half we were really aggressive, we got out in front, switched, all the basics that we were lacking early on.”

Glory Days photo/Sully

Wokocha was a big factor for the Braves. She had just four points in the first half, but finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals.

“I grew up with her playing soccer. She’s always been very quiet, but this year she’s been a whole different person. I’m so proud of how far she has come with basketball because we kind of dragged her into it, she didn’t necessarily want to in the beginning,” Fortis said of her teammate. “But she’s such a star, I love playing with her and we have so much chemistry together.”

The Braves said they are enjoying another run to the sectional semifinals (they lost against Mainland two years ago in the same round) and feel like they are playing their best basketball. They’ve played the Mustangs twice this year, getting blown out, 63-30, on Jan. 5 but in the rematch at Absegami on Jan. 26 the Stangs had to work hard to escape with a 38-35 victory. Absegami is one of just two teams, along with Paul VI, to hold Mainland to less than 40 points in a game this season.  

“That loss (to Wildwood Catholic in the CAL Tournament) really pushed us to get better,” Wokocha said. “We work hard and this is a really good group of girls. We play well together and have a lot of chemistry. (Being a senior) motivates me a lot, as I’m sure it does for Jackie and the other seniors.”

Fortis said she believes the Braves will be ready for Mainland (24-2) on Saturday.

“I think that we’ve been in more close games recently. The last time we played them, when it was a close game, we hadn’t been able to practice those close end-of-game decisions and strategies, and playing smart when there is a minute left and you are down by two,” she said. “I think we have a lot more experience now when it comes to situations like that, and we’ll be prepared mentally.”

What’s next: No. 4 Absegami at No. 1 Mainland Regional in the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals, Saturday, time TBD.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays