MAYS LANDING — When the calendar flips over to January each year, that’s when the Middle Township girls basketball team typically starts to get on a roll. It takes a few weeks in December for coach John Leahy to round all his multi-sport athletes into basketball shape, but once the Panthers get in a groove they are one of the hardest teams in the Cape-Atlantic League to stop.

Middle went 24-6 a year ago and is off to a great start again this season, as the Panthers took care of ACIT, 49-33, on Friday night to win their fifth straight game and improve to 7-1. The game was tied, 8-8, after one quarter, but the Panthers took over in the second and third quarters, outscoring the RedHawks 13-4 in the second frame to build a 10-point halftime lead, then besting ACIT 15-9 in the third quarter to open up a 37-18 lead.

That quarter wrapped up with a long running 3-pointer at the buzzer from Kate Herlihy off an inbounds pass, and ACIT never recovered.

“My group is battle-tested. They have been through the wars. Right now we’re just continuing to try to get better, and get sharp,” Leahy said. “A lot of my kids play fall sports, so we’re still trying to get sharp and hopefully improve every day, and hit our stride at the end of the season.”

Step-for-step: The RedHawks — one of the better teams in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference coming in at 5-2 overall and undefeated in CAL games (4-0) — got off to a good start behind center CeaCea Jackson, who scored six of ACIT’s first eight points. Jakyra Williams added a first-quarter bucket, and the combination of those two, along with Grace Speer, gave Middle Township trouble on the inside.

“It’s hard, we don’t have a ton of size but our kids were fighting like heck to rebound. I thought we did a great job on the glass. There are some rebounds you’re going to give up and some baskets just because of their size, but my kids were fighting hard,” Leahy said. “We wanted to push the ball and run a little bit to try to wear some of their kids down. I thought we did a much better job in the second and third quarters of settling into our offense.”

Finding their touch: In the second quarter, Middle began to knock down some open shots, and moving the ball around on offense created some opportunities for players such as Herlihy and Kira Sides. ACIT had no answer for that combination, as Sides finished with 21 points and Herlihy 19, and they combined to hit four of the Panthers’ five 3-pointers.

Middle also went on a 9-0 run to start the third quarter, turning a 22-12 lead into a 31-12 advantage. ACIT cut the deficit to 32-18 when Speer went coast-to-coast to convert a steal, but Herlihy’s desperation three to end the third quarter took the wind out of the RedHawks’ sails.

Tough games coming: Both teams will be tested before the end of January, as Middle has games against Saddle River Day, OLMA, Mainland and Wildwood Catholic later this month, while ACIT has to contend with the likes of Atlantic City, Cedar Creek and Moorestown Friends coming up.

“Tonight is a big win. That’s a good team, on their home floor. Obviously they are big and Jackie (Siscone) does a great job with them,” Leahy said, referring to ACIT skipper Jackie Siscone, a former Hammonton 1,000-point scorer who was coaching at Holy Spirit last season. “That group is just going to keep getting better, and I think they’ll be right there when the CAL Tournament rolls around. So, this is a really good win for our group, on the road.”

What’s next: Middle Township hosts Pleasantville at 5:30 p.m. Monday. ACIT travels to Bridgeton on Jan. 17.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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