Dakota Hitchner, a senior guard at Atlantic Christian School in Egg Harbor Township, came into Monday afternoon's game against New Foundations Christian School needing just four points to reach 2,000 for her career. Tension began to mount when, four minutes into the game, Hitchner remained scoreless.

But at the four-minute mark, Hitchner scored on a runner off a steal, and that seemed to settle her down. Less than a minute later, she nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, giving her 2,001 career points.

After a few minutes of celebration, hugs from teammates and coaches, and plenty of balloons, the host Cougars found themselves in a dogfight. Hitchner admitted she didn't have her best shooting game, but she still scored a game-high 19 points, and ACS got 13 points from Shannon Murphy and 10 more from Samantha Rhodes to finally put away a feisty Bulldogs team, 50-41.

"I was actually getting really nervous because I wasn't playing well. I was missing my shots and I had missed a layup. I was like, 'oh, my word! I'm not even going to score four points this entire game and everyone is here to see me.' But I just kept telling myself when it comes, it will come, don't force it. Let it come naturally," Hitchner said. "I was so excited. There was so much excitement in the gym. I kept seeing familiar faces. I was getting really excited, but I was a little nervous after the first few minutes. When I hit the first shot I was thinking that I was halfway there. I told myself to just keep shooting, even though I was missing a lot of shots. I'm a shooter, and you have to just keep shooting when you're open."

"It was awesome. She was so excited before the game and we were just cheering for her the whole time," said Murphy, also a senior. "We're really excited to see her get this accomplishment. That was definitely what was going through our heads at the beginning, that she just needed four points to get that out of the way so we could focus on the rest of the game."

The Cougars had a tough time getting any kind of separation from the Bulldogs. Atlantic Christian held just a 23-22 lead heading into the second half, but stepped up its intensity on defense, not allowing New Foundations to score until the final minute of the third quarter. That allowed the Cougars go to on an 11-0 run, highlighted by 3-pointers from Murphy and Abigail Vogel. Bulldogs forward Malia Johnson finally scored on a breakaway to cut the deficit to 34-24 with 47 seconds left in the third.

Atlantic Christian built a 44-33 lead, but once again the Bulldogs mustered a comeback, as three straight 3-pointers, including a pair by Kviah Breazeale, shaved the lead to 44-36. A putback by Johnson made it 44-38, but key baskets by Rhodes and Vogel down the stretch allowed the Cougars to hang on.

"It was good competition for us, and we were excited to play some good competition and have a close game in the second half," Murphy said. "Going into halftime, we just talked about setting ourselves on defense, and just having a good game offensively and knowing where each other was going to be."

"They're a good team. I actually searched them out to play them. We don't play a lot of even games. I looked at how they did against some teams and I thought it would be a competitive game, so I asked them to come play us," said Pam Hitchner, the Cougars' coach and Dakota's mom.

Coach Hitchner said she knew her daughter was anxious because she was missing shots early on that she normally makes with relative ease.

"It's not an easy position to be in. There was a lot of pressure because she had a lot of people here to support her. We had no plans to feed her the ball, so however it was going to happen it was going to happen. She didn't have her best game, obviously. I think she was a little anxious," coach Hitchner said. "Sam came out and hit some key shots for us. And Murphy is so solid for us. I always call her our unsung hero. She gets rebounds for us, extra possessions. She hit a couple of huge threes for us.

"The team did a good job rallying around Dakota. I just told her to keep shooting. It's awesome for our school and we're very grateful."

Dakota said she knew the 3-pointer she took in the first quarter to reach 2,001 career points was on target.

"That one, I knew was in," she said. "I think every shot is going to go in, but with that one I knew it was going in and I was able to settle down."

Contact Dave O'Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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