South Jersey Sports Report: EHT Girls Make in 4 in a Row
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — What looked like perhaps an easy win on paper for the Egg Harbor Township girls basketball team on Tuesday night quickly turned into a dogfight, as the Eagles lost starting point guard Lauren Baxter to injury early in the first quarter then had to scratch and claw to pull out a 36-29 victory over a Millville team that came in with a 1-9 record.
The Thunderbolts played tough defense throughout, making it difficult for the Eagles to settle into an offensive groove, and Millville got 15 points from guard Shanajah Williams to hang around until the final 30 seconds before EHT was able to seal the victory with a few free throws and a couple of layups.
EHT (6-5, 3-2 Cape-Atlantic League American Conference) got 11 points from senior forward Sierra Hegh and 16 points combined from Madison Israel, Amelia Zinckgraf and Kierstyn Zinckgraf, but the Thunderbolts were still within 30-27 after Williams hit a free throw with 1:40 remaining. But the Eagles were able to outscore Millville 6-2 in the final 90 seconds to get up over the .500 mark and keep some pressure on the teams ahead of them in the CAL American, Atlantic City and ACIT.
“We talked about making good decisions on offense, and just finishing. We missed some shots, that’s the game of basketball. You’re going to miss some shots, but you have to make sure you’re not turning the ball over the other times. You can’t have turnovers and missed shots,” coach Swift said. “I wouldn’t say we shot the ball well — we probably shot it poorly in comparison to the rest of the season — but a win is a win. To be 6-5, based on what our schedule has been, we have an overtime loss, a two-point loss and a three-point loss, to Ocean City, ACIT and Southern — so, we’re really just a few possessions away from being 9-2. We’re just trying to keep going with the positives.”
Early setback: The Eagles got off to a good start, but then Baxter, one of the team’s top scoring threats, jammed her left thumb and didn’t return to the lineup. That put the pressure on players such as Madison Israel and Mikki Pomatto to handle the ball. They did a nice job of that, and combined for 13 points, as Israel scored six and Pomatto added seven.
“We just had to adapt to a new point guard, and Madison really stepped up, and so did Mikki. We did as well as we could,” said Hegh, who nailed a 3-pointer from the right corner to beat the buzzer and give EHT an 18-11 lead heading into halftime. “We’re playing really good against some really tough teams. We went into overtime against Ocean City and last year we didn’t do well at all against them. And we lost to ACIT in the last 30 seconds. We’re just trying to win as many games as we can, and hopefully get further in the playoffs than we have in past years.”
“I thought our girls did step up. Obviously, losing your point guard is challenging in the game of basketball, but I thought the other girls stepped up and handled the ball well,” Swift added. “Madison Israel played a nice game handling the ball for us, and we need that second point guard who can help Lauren handle the ball, so I thought Madison did a nice job. They played hard, and that’s one thing the girls have been doing all year.”
Back-and-forth: Millville (1-10, 0-5) struggled to score in the first quarter but still trailed by just two, 7-5, heading into the second quarter thanks to some good defense that was forcing turnovers. The Eagles got a little bit of distance late in the first half with an 8-0 run that stretched their lead to 15-8, but Millville chipped away in the third quarter, getting a big three from Williams to close to within 25-20 heading into the fourth.
Williams added a jumper in the paint with less than three minutes to go to pull the Bolts within 28-26, but Israel answered with a couple of free throws and with 1:21 remaining Pomatto found Amelia Zinckgraf wide open under the basket for a 32-27 lead. Hegh added a layup with 43 seconds left that pushed the lead to 34-27 and sealed the victory.
The hunted: EHT has been playing well enough to step into the conversation in the CAL American race as well as competing for a berth in the upcoming CAL Tournament in mid-February. Atlantic City beat ACIT, 51-33, on Tuesday night to move into first place at 10-2 overall and 5-0, while the RedHawks (6-4, 4-1) slipped into second. But the Eagles are right there in third place, just a game behind ACIT.
And, after four straight losses from Dec. 28 through Jan. 11, the Eagles have ripped off four straight wins. They’ve taken down Vineland, Bridgeton, Highland and Millville following a 10-point overtime loss to Ocean City on Jan. 11, and three of those wins have come on the road.
“It’s been a little bit of an adjustment for some of the girls now that we’ve put a few wins together. It’s a little different when you are the hunted instead of the hunter, so we’re learning how to handle those expectations,” Swift said. “Now the girls are understanding that we should be winning — which is definitely where we want this program to be — and they’re learning that there are expectations and other teams are trying to beat you because you’re a big win for somebody. So, they have to show up every night.”
What’s next: Millville hosts Holy Spirit on Friday at 5:30 p.m. EHT travels to Washington Township on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays