LINWOOD - Holy Spirit High School girls basketball coach Dennis Smith admitted he wasn't thrilled when he saw the opening game of his team's 2012-13 schedule.
The Spartans traveled to Cape-Atlantic League American Division rival Mainland Regional on Friday for a road game against the only division team to beat Holy Spirit last year.
Smith was much more relieved after the game. Holy Spirit defeated Mainland 51-35 in a game that was much closer earlier in the second half.
"What I love about this is that it is such a great divisional rivalry. ... I love playing Mainland. They're always well coached," Smith said.
Senior guard Val Garofalo led Holy Spirit (1-0), No. 9 in The Press Elite 11, with 16 points.
One of the Spartans shortest players at 5-foot-4, she also blocked two shots.
Garofalo was one of the only Spirit players not to play limited time. The Spartans got into foul trouble early. Starters Annie Wenz (five points, six rebounds) and Amanda Reale couldn't play much and both fouled out in the fourth quarter.
Summer Crilley fouled three times early and Gina Lewis' time was limited due to an ankle injury.
"Most of our starters and first off the bench were in foul trouble and we had to compensate for that," Garofalo said.
The final score didn't reflect most of the game. Though Mainland never led after late in the second quarter, things were close until the late in the third.
Smith joked that he wasn't truly comfortable with the Spartans' lead until the buzzer sounded.
"They did do a great job in the second half of stepping up and making better decisions," he said.
The Mustangs (0-1) rallied several times and brought the game within six points when Julia Byrnes hit a layup with 1 minute, 10 seconds left in the third quarter.
Senior forward Alex Raring led Mainland with 11 points and seven rebounds.
But Holy Spirit made adjustments in the final quarter, minimized its fouls and forced a young Mainland team to make mistakes. The Spartans pulled away in the final quarter. Sarah Shields (11 points, three assists) capped a 10-1 run to put Spirit up by 15 with under three minutes to play.
In his first game at the helm, Mainland coach Scott Betson was proud of the Mustangs' efforts against a division favorite.
"It was a test of character for us," Betson said. "We learned a lot about about how we play when the chips are down. The score is obviously disappointing, but I'm proud of the way we fought, for the most part."
The game was a test for the Spartans as well. Holy Spirit proved it has the tools to win even in trying situations.
When its players were in the game, the Spartans shined. Garofalo, Shields and Crilley made steals and converted them into easy layups. Wenz and Lewis showed their value on the post with rebounds and putbacks.
"We always know it's going to be a tough game whether we're here or they come to us," Garofalo said. "We had to come in and make a statement."
Contact Brittany Grugan:
Holy Spirit 19 3 17 12-51
Mainland Regional 11 10 8 6-35
HS-Garofalo 7 0-1 16, Shields 4 1-2 11, Crilley 3 2-2 8, Wenz 2 1-1 5, Long 0 3-4 3, Lewis 3 2-6 8, Palleto 0 0-2 0. Totals-19 9-18 51.
M-Dalessio 1 3-4 6, Raring 3 5-6 11, Urbon 1 0-0 2, Byrnes 2 6-8 10, Scannell 1 2-2 4, Stafford 0 2-2 2. Totals-8 18-22 35.
3-pointers-Garofalo (2), Shields (2) HS. Dalessio M.
Records-Holy Spirit 1-0; Mainland 0-1.