LOWER TOWNSHIP - The Lower Cape May Regional High School girls basketball team picked a great time to play its best game of the season.
The eighth-seeded Caper-Tigers dominated ninth-seeded Deptford from the outset to earn a 72-46 victory in the opening round of the South Jersey Group II tournament Monday night.
But they can't celebrate for long.
Lower Cape May will have to play at the same level in its next game if it expects to stay in contention for the first S.J. title in program history. As a reward for beating Deptford, the Caper-Tigers (18-9) earned a trip to Willingboro to face the top-seeded Chimeras on Wednesday.
"Willingboro is going to be a handful," Lower sophomore guard Lauren Holden said. "But we played them pretty tough earlier this year, so we know we have a shot at beating them."
The teams met Feb. 7 at Willingboro, with the Chimeras winning 39-24. Lower Cape May played them even for the final three quarters after falling behind by 15 in the opening period. Willingboro is ranked third in The Press Elite 11.
If the Caper-Tigers can equal Monday's performance, they will have a chance at the upset. The Caper Tigers likely would have topped 80 points if they hadn't pulled most of their starters after three quarters.
Holden equaled her career high with 32 points. Sophomore forward Maddie Gibson also turned in a strong performance with 20 points.
"We concentrated only on getting ready to play Deptford the last two days," Lower coach Scott Douglas said. "But now that we're past them, we can prepare for Willingboro again. They are a very good team, but I think the fact that we've played them already should help us because we know what to expect."
Lower jumped out to a 6-0 lead over Deptford and never trailed. The Spartans managed to cut the gap to 10-8 midway through the first quarter, but the Caper-Tigers embarked on a 12-1 run to open a 22-9 lead and Deptford never got closer than 10 points.
Holden sparked the early rally by scoring 10 straight points. She drove the middle for a three-point play, swished a 3-pointer and then converted a pair of free throws and canned another jumper.
Gibson had a tough time battling Deptford sophomore forward Cheyenne Clark in the paint but fared well. Clark finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks, but Gibson's quickness and aggressiveness played to her advantage. Gibson scored 10 points in the first quarter and had 18 at halftime.
"We've played a lot of physical teams this year, so I'm used to it," Gibson said. "Sometimes I'm a big part of the offense and sometimes I'm not. It all depends on the game."
Holden, the daughter of former Lower Cape May boys basketball coach and 1,000-point scorer Pat Holden, scored 24 points in the first half. She spent most of the third quarter getting her teammates involved in the offense before leaving the game for good with six minutes left in the game.
Asked if her 32 points were a career high, she shrugged.
Her coaches confirmed that it matched her career best.
"I have no idea," Holden said. "I really don't keep track of how many points I score. I just play to win."
Contact David Weinberg:
Deptford 14 9 9 14-46
Lower Cape May 24 22 20 6-72
Deptford: Callaway 6 4-8 17, Clark 5 7-14 17, Curry 3 0-2 6, Carter 2 0-0 4, Brown 1 0-1 2. Totals 17 11-25 46.
LCM: Holden 12 6-7 32, Gibson 9 2-2 20, Vandermark 2 0-0 4, Sangillo 1 0-0 2, Magee 5 0-1 10, Young 2 0-0 4. Totals 31 8-10 72.
3-pointers: Holden (2) L; Callaway D.
Records: Deptford 15-10; Lower Cape May 18-9.