VINELAND - Tyler Lunsford admitted he felt jitters before the opening tip Friday night.
The freshman guard couldn't have looked calmer in the fourth quarter.
Lunsford scored six points and had two assists in the final eight minutes as the Sacred Heart boys basketball team beat Wildwood Catholic 60-54 in the season opener for both Cape-Atlantic League United Division teams.
"I had some stomach (butterflies) but when I got into it I felt much better," said the 5-foot-8 Lunsford, who finished with 16 points. "We have to keep working hard. This means a lot to the team."
With the win, Sacred Heart built on the momentum it created at the end of last season when it advanced to the South Jersey Non-Public B semifinals. Wildwood Catholic is the defending division champion.
The Sacred Heart boys basketball program has long struggled. But these Lions should be a fun team to watch develop. Mike Holloway, a 6-6 sophomore, scored 17 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots Friday. Junior Christopher Burch sank two 3-pointers and scored 17 points.
"We have a lot of athletic kids on the court," Holloway said. "We want to go up and down the floor every chance we get."
The game was tied at halftime but Sacred Heart methodically pulled away from Wildwood Catholic in the second half.
"It just seemed every time there was a loose ball they just ended up with it, and I thought that was the difference," Wildwood Catholic coach David DeWeese said. "Not that our kids weren't trying. (Sacred Heart is) very athletic. Both teams played hard. It was a well-played game for the first game of the year."
Lunsford, a Vineland resident, sank a 3-pointer to begin a key 7-0 run that gave the Lions a 39-29 lead with 1:47 left in the third quarter. Holloway scored six points - all in the lane - in the quarter.
Wildwood Catholic rallied in the fourth quarter behind junior forward Ed McWade (19 points). But the Lions never lost the lead.
The Crusaders twice cut the lead to two points but each time the Lions responded with a basket.
The first time, Lunsford drove and passed to Holloway for a layup. The second time, Themba Lungo made two free throws.
Lunsford sank 3-of-4 foul shots in the final 50 seconds to clinch the victory.
"Tyler is a freshman in grade level and age only," Sacred Heart coach Kevin Nash said. "Ability-wise, basketball knowledge, decision-making and maturity he's light years beyond being a freshman."
The young Sacred Heart team will face another challenge today - putting a big win behind it and playing another tough opponent.
The Lions will play perennial South Jersey Group II power Haddonfield at 2 p.m. at Schalick in a Jimmy V Foundation Showcase game to benefit cancer research.
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