By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — To say the Absegami High girls basketball team was smarting after a 46-45 loss to Holy Spirit on Saturday — a game in which the Braves held an 18-point first-half lead — would be an understatement.
The Braves were itching to get back out on the floor to exorcise the demons of that day, and they got their chance on Wednesday night. Unfortunately for visiting Cedar Creek, the Pirates had to endure the brunt of Absegami’s frustrations.
Senior guard Haleigh Schafer proved — on Senior Night — why she’s one of the best players in the Cape-Atlantic League, as she scored 27 points in a variety of ways to help lead the Braves to a convincing 51-23 victory. The win puts Absegami at 5-1 overall and 5-1 in the Cape-Atlantic League North, a game behind Holy Spirit (7-1, 7-1).
“That loss on Saturday — we knew we had to come back strong. We weren’t going to let that take a toll on us,” said Gelasia Nurse, who finished with six points and 11 rebounds for Absegami.
“It was a team effort,” Schafer added. “We came out here, and before the game we were like, ‘play for each other.’ This is a big rivalry game and we knew we had to play with heart after that Spirit loss. We all came together for a big team win, and I’m glad we got to beat our rival especially since (for the seniors) this is our last time playing Cedar Creek.”
“What’s really special about this group is, after we lost they could have made a million excuses, but they didn’t,” Braves head coach Bob Lasko said. “They just said, ‘this is what we need to work on’ and they put their heads down and grinded. I think they are really starting to mature. It’s a nice group of kids we have.”
The game started at a snail’s pace, as Gami led just 3-2 midway through the first quarter, but by the end of the quarter the Braves were able to push out to a 9-4 lead. A three-point play from Schafer early in the second quarter gave Absegami a 14-4 lead, and that became a theme throughout the night as the Pirates simply didn’t have anybody to match up with Schafer, either in the front court or back court. By halftime, Schafer had 13 points and Absegami had built a 23-8 lead.
“I think (the key) was just slowing the game down and seeing the floor better. We made a couple mistakes here and there but I feel like we slowed the ball down, we got the right reads, we took our time finishing and our shot selection was really good today. We were just listening to coach Lasko and working the ball around,” Schafer said. “It feels really good, especially since everybody contributed to the win. And just having the right mindset. We were tested (on Saturday) and a lot of us were wondering how we were going to build off of that. I think we excelled, and we have to keep going because we have a tough game against EHT (today). Cedar Creek is a very well-coached team, but we really rallied together and showed a lot of heart.”
“We talked about moving her around a little more, and it’s hard for her. We have a lot of younger kids who are playing and this is their first year of varsity. We’re trying to find the right mix and with very little practice time it hasn’t been easy, but I give these girls a lot of credit, they are starting to get it,” Lasko said. “You see flashes of really good basketball but then you see flashes of stuff we need to work on. I like our defense. Our defense seems to be holding people down, and if we get a little better shooting and start moving the ball a little better, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
Cedar Creek (2-7, 2-7 CAL North) made a game of it in the third quarter behind senior guard Jezlyn Cross, who scored a team-high 11 points. She scored off a steal and hit a couple of jumpers to pull the Pirates to within 25-17, but that’s as close as Cedar Creek could get. Early in the fourth quarter Nurse scored on the inside and then Schafer converted back-to-back traditional 3-point plays as the Braves’ lead reached 37-18.
Schafer finished with a double-double, adding 10 rebounds to her 27 points, but she got a lot of help, as Ayana Crandall added five rebounds and Chi Chi Wochka chipped in with eight rebounds, two assists, three blocks and a pair of steals. Jade Mendoza, Jackie Fortis, Jayla McNamara, Grace McFarland, Gianna Baldino and Dessiah Key combined for 17 points and eight steals.
“It’s not all about getting shots, it’s about getting rebounds, being there for your team, passing the ball, knowing when to help out, and the fact that we work so well on the court together, it’s amazing and it’s rare to find that in a team,” Nurse said.
“These seniors have done great. We’ve gone further than any Absegami team in the last 10 years,” Lasko said of a group that includes Schafer, Mendoza, McNamara and McFarland. “We went to the (sectional) semifinals last year and I don’t think anybody expected that. We were looking forward to a nice run this season, but I think the kids are making the most of their opportunities. We’re starting to see around the county that this basketball season can end pretty quickly, so we’re just enjoying every game we get to play and we’re taking it day-by-day.”
What’s next: Absegami hosts Egg Harbor Township today at 5:30 p.m. Cedar Creek hosts Pleasantville on Saturday, time TBA.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays