EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Anyone watching the first quarter of the Egg Harbor Township-Absegami girls basketball game Friday night had to be thinking two things.
One, the newly renovated gymnasium is beautiful. Plenty of seating emblazoned in school colors black, silver and white with a newly finished court and great lighting highlight the new home of Eagles basketball.
And, two, how could two talented teams combine to score only four points in the first quarter?.
EHT played through a first quarter in which the teams combined for twice as many fouls (eight) as they did points (four) to win the first varsity basketball game played since the renovations.
Junior Laura Phillips came off the bench to spark the Eagles in the second quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers and made three key free throws in the last minutes as EHT beat the Braves 35-28 in a Cape-Atlantic League American Conference season-opening game.
Despite jumping out to a 13-point halftime lead, Phillips walked to the line with less than a minute left in the game with the Eagles clinging desperately to a 30-28 lead.
"I really don't like being the one in that situation to be honest with you," Phillips said. "Everybody is looking at me and it's up to me. Under pressure, I can work with it, but I don't like it; I'll be honest.
"My main thing was to block everyone out and focus on hitting my shot."
Phillips rattled home two free throws and hit 1-of-2 on the team's next possession to put the game away.
"At the end of the game, I tell them all the time that you've got to make free throws, and she stepped up and that really clinched it for us," EHT coach Karen Shutz said.
"For a moment we were back on our heels and I just told the girls, 'You've got to believe that you're going to win this. You've got to want it'."
The teams went scoreless for the first 4 minutes , 19 seconds of the game until EHT's Karen Chikezie hit 1-of-2 free throws.
Absegami didn't score until the 1:41 mark, when Selena Sudol made a free throw, and the Braves went into the second quarter trailing 3-1.
Each team had more fouls than points.
But Phillips came off the bench to hit back-to-back 3s to lead the Eagles to a 21-8 halftime lead.
"That kind of out us over the hump," Shutz said. "We were scoring, but it was kind of stagnant. Once she hit those 3s, we really took off from there."
Phillips finished with a game-high nine points.
Absegami made a game of it in the fourth, scoring 14 points, the same amount it had scored in the first three quarters combined.
Arlene Craig led the charge with six points in the quarter.
"We were getting to the line and getting shots. We just didn't make them, and that's a testament to Karen and her team's defense," Absegami coach Meghan Tracey said. "They're always rebounding. They're not going to allow you second shots, so you have to make your shot the first time or make foul shots."
The Braves were 12-for-31 at the free throw line.
"The foul shots were killer," Tracey said. "Down the stretch, EHT converted. We came back and showed heart, but in the end, it just wasn't enough."
The game featured an interesting coaching matchup as well: Shutz and Tracey were teammates at EHT.
Tracey was on the court when Shutz set the school's all-time assists record, which she still holds.
"After the game we're friends," Tracey said. "I'm (ticked) that they beat us, obviously, but at the end, I give her a hug and we're still friends. We're bonded by basketball."
Shutz said, "She's a great person. She's a great coach and we're friends. In between those four quarters, we're competing, but outside that she's a great coach and I like competing against her."
Mackenzie Wimberg led Absegami with eight points. Craig and Sudol chipped in with six apiece.
Gina DiDomenico and Jo'elle Varela each scored six points for the Eagles.
Notes: EHT Sophomore Dana Baker, winner of an "American Idol"-style competition aptly named "EHT Idol," treated the crowd to a solid rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " with guitar at halftime of the girls game and sang the national anthem a cappella prior to the boys game. … In a bit of irony, Tracey wore silver and black (EHT's colors), and new EHT athletic director Mike Pellegrino wore brown and gold (Absegami's colors), a superstition of his. … Three players fouled out of Friday's game as the teams combined to shoot 52 free throws.
Contact John O'Kane:
Absegami 1 7 6 14-28
Egg Harbor Township 3 18 4 10-35
A-Brooks 1 2-9 4, Craig 3 0-4 6, Ingargiola 1 0-0 2, Wilson 1 0-0 2, Wimberg 1 6-8 8, Sudol 1 4-6 6. Totals 8 12-31 28.
EHT-Chikezie 2 1-4 5, DiDomenico 2 2-2 6, K. Phillips 1 1-2 3, Scheiter 0 2-6 2, Varela 3 0-1 6, L. Phillips 2 3-4 9, Reed 1 0-2 2, Santiago 1 0-0 2. Totals-12 9-21 35.
3-pointers-L. Phillips (2) EHT.
Records-Absegami 0-1; EHT 1-0.