By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
HAMMONTON — Shooters are going to shoot, and if you let Absegami guard Julia Hartman shoot, chances are she’s going to bury a bunch of 3-pointers.
Host and sixth-seeded Hammonton didn’t have an answer when it came to defending Hartman on Thursday night in the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament, as the sophomore drained six threes — including one of the half-court variety to end the first half — and scored a game-high 20 points to lead 11th-seeded Absegami to a 52-35 win in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week. The Braves advance to take on No. 3 Middle Township, a winner over Vineland, on Saturday in the “Elite 8” round. In years past there were only eight teams in the tournament, but this year any team in the league could opt in, which forced two extra rounds.
Absegami didn’t look like the lower-seeded team as it led from start to finish, jumping out to a quick 4-0 lead and not allowing Hammonton to even get on the scoreboard for the first four-plus minutes. Absegami led 11-4 after one quarter and the lead reached 10 points, 16-6, on Hartman’s second 3-pointer of the game early in the second quarter.
Then, with one second left before halftime Hammonton point guard Giada Palmieri was fouled. She hit 1-of-2 from the line to bring the Blue Devils to within 24-17, but Absegami senior Maka Wokocha rolled the ball in and it reached the half-court line before Hartman picked it up and heaved up a prayer. The ball banked in for a long 3-pointer that gave the Braves a 27-17 halftime lead. That seemed to take the air out of any comeback hopes Hammonton might have had in the second half.
“No one was really covering me, so I just put everything into that shot, and it just went in,” said Hartman, who hit five of her six 3-pointers in the first half. “I thought they were going to press a little bit, but they didn’t.”
“When Julia gets hot, we’ll just keep passing it to her, and she knocks them down. I saw after the first two shots that she was going to keep making them,” added sophomore point guard Reese Downey, who finished with 17 points.
“I was really excited for her. You can tell, once she gets the first one, she doesn’t stop,” said Absegami senior guard Gianna Baldino. “She’ll miss one, but then she’ll make five more. She’s not going to stop shooting.”
Hartman hit another big three in the third quarter and Downey nailed one to put Absegami up 39-18 with 2:07 left in the third. Hammonton got to within 40-27 late in the third on a 3-pointer from Kiley Kozlowski, but that’s as close as the Blue Devils could get.
Forward Kaylynn Blackwell was a big factor for Absegami as well, as she finished with eight points, and Jaidah Garrett added six from the other forward position. Hammonton couldn’t match up inside without its star forward, Emma Peretti — who has more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her career but has been sidelined with an injury.
“I go off of Reese; if the defense helps on her, I get an open shot, and that’s what they were doing a lot. I was able to get a lot of open shots because of Reese’s hard work. They were open and from the corner, where I like to shoot,” Hartman said. “We were able to get the ball in to Kaylynn down low if shots weren’t open (on the outside), and if they pressed down on her we were able to get open shots. That’s important. Kaylynn and Jaida know that if they aren’t open they can kick it out to us. We’re working well together as a team. We’re getting better as the season has gone on.”
“This team is better than people think. We’ve been through so many tough games and they’ve seen so much. Everyone tries to box-and-1 Reese, or triple-team her, but they are used to that now. We just play to what the other team is doing and then adjust, try to get the ball where it’s supposed to be,” said Absegami coach Bob Lasko. “We’re still a young team, so usually we’ll put maybe three good quarters together. But lately we’re starting to put together four good quarters. Today, we played a little sloppy at times, but I was happy with what we did in that third quarter. We handled our business.”
The Braves may be just one game above .500 at 12-11, but they are playing with confidence having won three straight and five of the last eight. They also came within five points of beating Ocean City, Mainland and Wildwood Catholic, three of the top five seeds in the CAL Tournament.
“After tonight, I think we’re going to be good for the rest of the postseason,” Downey said. “We’re going to have to play hard against Middle, and keep playing the way we did in the third and fourth quarters today.”
Added Baldino, “this is exciting. We’ve gotten a lot better the past few weeks. We’ve been working really hard at practice. I’m not surprised that we won. We had some tough games early on and we’re a young team, but everyone has really started to focus in, and it’s been working out well.”
“We have the ingredients to play with anybody, and we plan to,” coach Lasko said. “It’s not going to get any easier in the CAL or state playoffs, but I tell you what, if I was somebody else I wouldn’t want to play us right now. We’re pretty tough.”
What’s Next: Absegami at Middle Township, Saturday, time TBD. Hammonton hosts Millville on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays