By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR CITY — The Holy Spirit girls basketball team has a slate of 10 games in the month of January, and head coach Tim Whitworth wanted to make sure his Spartans were ready to go, both mentally and physically, during the first of those 10 games on Tuesday night at Cedar Creek.
The best way to get his team energized coming off the holiday break? Go with a full-court defensive press from the jump and get his players running all over the floor trying to create turnovers.
The strategy worked to perfection, as the Spartans raced out to a 21-2 lead and never looked back, scoring a 65-35 victory over the Pirates in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Cape-Atlantic League Game of the Week. The win was the third straight for Holy Spirit, which improved to 6-1 overall and took over first place in the CAL American Conference. Spirit got a huge game from sophomore guard Sabrina Little, who scored 15 points and created a bunch of turnovers, while Hannah Watson and Kira Murray each added 10 points.
“That was the key going into the game for us — we were coming off a little break, the kids were out of their rhythm not being in school — so the first couple of minutes were important, just to set the tone. Hats off to our kids, they did a great job in those first few minutes,” Whitworth said.
Kendall Murphy fed Ella Petrosh in transition to give Holy Spirit an early 10-2 lead and Little scored off a steal to give the Spartans a 10-point lead. Moments later, Little scored twice off steals and Watson came off the bench to nail a 3-pointer to push the lead to 21-2. Cedar Creek got a 3-pointer from Emonie Taylor to put an end to Spirit’s 15-0 run, but by the end of the first quarter the Spartans had taken a 21-5 lead.
“We’re just trying to play our game and concentrating on fast-paced pressing, trying to make deflections and get steals,” said Murray, a senior from Northfield. “We like to play fast and as a team. We’re very aggressive. We love playing defense, that’s probably our favorite thing to do, and we just have fun with it.”
“Coming into this game we had to have confidence and keep our energy up the entire game. We wanted to start off with a bunch of energy. We did exactly what we needed to do to get the job done today,” added Little, a sophomore from Egg Harbor Township.
Holy Spirit (6-1, 2-1 CAL American) continued to play at that frenetic pace throughout the first half, and kept putting up shots, rarely spending more than 20 seconds in the half-court offense. But that’s just the way Whitworth likes it, and the strategy led to a 41-20 halftime lead.
“They’ve all bought into what we’re telling them, and for us, like Kira said, everything starts on the defensive end. If we get some steals, get some deflections, we can get some easy baskets. Then the 3-pointers become much easier when you see a couple of layups and free throws go in,” he said. “We love to let it fly. When I played, that’s what I wanted. If I missed a couple I was like, you know what? Maybe I’ll rattle off three or four in a row if I have the freedom to shoot. I want these girls to all shoot with confidence and believing in themselves. That’s important.”
Murphy finished with seven points for Holy Spirit while Kieran Brewster added six, all of which came in the first half. In all, 11 Spartans players scored at least two points.
For Cedar Creek (3-3, 1-2 CAL American), senior center Jada Hill led the way with 14 points and 15 rebounds, and point guard Mia McColl chipped in nine points and seven rebounds. Kileen McNeill contributed four points, seven rebounds and two assists.
Holy Spirit has a tough stretch coming up next week with road games at Hammonton, Egg Harbor Township and Middle Township, but the Spartans believe they are ready for the grind of January.
“We just have to keep the team together, keep our energy up, and confidence is key. I think if we stay together as a team we can keep moving forward and winning,” Little said.
“I just want us to keep getting better, day by day. I know that’s coaching cliché talk, but I think we’ve made strides from the start of the season already,” Whitworth said. “So we want to keep getting better, don’t look ahead and just take it game by game. We have a rough stretch with a lot of basketball games in a short period of time.”
What’s Next: Holy Spirit hosts Millville on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Cedar Creek travels to ACIT on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays