NEWFIELD — The Our Lady of Mercy Academy girls basketball team has had its way with Cape-Atlantic League opponents this season, so Thursday night’s matchup in our Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week against previously undefeated Egg Harbor Township was going to be a litmus test for the Villagers.
Not only did OLMA come out with a confidence-boosting 55-48 victory, but senior guard Madelynn Bernhardt became just the third Villagers player ever to reach 1,000 career points. The historic bucket came halfway through the third quarter when she put back her own missed shot on the baseline to join Jeannine Heil (a 1989 graduate who finished with 1,212 points) and Taylor Thompson (2010 grad, 1,130 career points) among OLMA’s elite. Bernhardt already has more than 200 points this season so there’s certainly a chance she could finish her career as the school’s all-time leading scorer. Classmate Savannah Prescott, OLMA’s point guard, is also closing in on 1,000 points, needing just 155 more to join Bernhardt.
That duo combined for 27 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals — a big reason why OLMA was able to edge the Eagles, who dealt with some serious foul trouble all night but still made a late run to cut a 17-point deficit down to just six points in the final 90 seconds.
“I’m so proud of her,” Prescott said of Berhnardt. “She’s wanted this since freshman year so it’s great to see her get it. It means she puts that work in, and that she’s a very good player.”
“I just felt really happy. I’ve been working for it since freshman year. I was just really happy that I was able to get it, and I had so many people here to support me to get it, so it really pushed me. It feels really good. I’ve been playing basketball for so long and it’s always been a goal for me to get (1,000 points),” said Bernhardt, a Milmay resident. “It’s kind of a weight off my shoulders for the rest of the year. Obviously, I’ve been working toward it all year, but now I just feel like it’s giving me a lot of confidence to finish my career strong.”
The teams were tied, 23-23, at halftime, but OLMA (12-1, 6-0 Cape-Atlantic League National) outscored the Eagles 22-7 in the third quarter to take command. Included in that was a 10-0 run that coincided with EHT’s 6-foot-2 center, Averie Harding, having to head to the bench with four fouls. Freshman Khalia Lewis scored two straight baskets on the inside to push OLMA’s lead to 43-30, and she added a putback to close out the fourth quarter.
Adrianna Bristow opened the fourth quarter with a jumper that capped the 10-0 run and gave OLMA a commanding 47-30 lead.
“It was a really good matchup for us because we have Khalia and they have Avery. I just thought we wanted it more and worked harder, and we were able to get the win,” Bernhardt said.
“My assistant coach said, ‘let’s go, let’s get it inside,’ (when Harding went out),” said Villagers coach Brian Coyle. “We got it in to Lewis before, but with Harding everything is contested. Once we were able to get her out of the game, we were able to go inside a little bit more. And the same thing with them, when Khalia went out. Khalia is dynamic and very athletic.
“That’s a tough team, and it’s kind of like looking in the mirror a little bit with the kids they have and the kids we have,” Coyle continued. “We knew Harding was going to be tough, she’s a really good player, and (Ava) Kraybill is a good player, too. They do a great job coaching them. But our girls dug in, played great defense and took the opportunities to score when we could. I thought in the first half we had a number of opportunities that we missed and that we could have put more points on the board. In the second half we were able to find kids open and get to the rim a little bit.”
EHT (10-1, 5-1 CAL National) stormed back behind Kraybill and Harding in the fourth, as a couple of buckets from Harding and a big 3-pointer from Kraybill with 1:23 left cut the deficit to 54-48. But the Eagles failed to score in the final minute as the Villagers held on, taking over sole possession of first place in the CAL National race.
Bernhardt — who needed 15 points coming in to reach 1,000 — scored 16 to lead the Villagers, while Prescott added 11 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals. Lewis had a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Harding had 18 points to lead EHT, while Kraybill added 17.
“(Savannah) did awesome, especially in breaking the 1-3-1 (pressure defense). We don’t see that a lot, so it was important for her that she was able to get other people open,” Berhardt said. “This win is really good for our confidence, especially when we get to the CAL Tournament. We want to have that chip on our shoulders because I feel like we’re really underrated.”
“Savannah has been a three-year starter for us and she makes us go. She has a great handle, she’s explosive and she can finish around the rim,” Coyle said of the Williamstown resident. “She really does everything for us. She’s the heart and soul of this team. She doesn’t say a whole lot, she just goes and plays and does it by example.”
The win was big for OLMA, which still plays eight more games in January before gearing up for the Cape-Atlantic League Tournment.
“This meant a lot because they were ranked higher than us in a lot of polls. Our freshman, Khalia, she did a good job and so did the rest of our team when she was out,” Prescott said. “This shows we’re capable of winning in the CAL and that we should be on other teams’ radar.”
“I can lie and give you coach speak and say every game is the same, but this is huge,” added Coyle. “We thought our division would kind of come down to us and them. They are a good team, well coached with good players, so our girls were excited for (this win). I try not to talk about wins and losses, I talk about getting better, but you don’t have to tell them, they know. They read the papers and see social media. It’s a big win, no doubt about it. We’re going to see them again one more time and maybe in the CAL Tournament. That’s a good basketball team we played against tonight.”
WHAT’S NEXT: OLMA hosts Ocean City on Saturday at 11 a.m. EHT travels to Haddon Heights on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
Sully, as he’s known throughout South Jersey, began his newspaper career in 1995 and has worked for some of New Jersey’s top papers, including The Asbury Park Press and Press of Atlantic City, as a writer and editor. He’s earned several New Jersey Press Association awards and continues to produce high quality reporting, writing and photography.
A native of Ocean County, Sully played high school baseball at Lacey Township High and college baseball at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina. After a successful 15-year career in the newspaper business, Sully launched Glory Days Magazine in 2013 and for nearly a decade has been bringing fans outstanding and insightful coverage of high school sports throughout South Jersey.