NORTH WILDWOOD - Coach Steve DiPatri said he's been working with Danielle Sanderlin's free-throw shooting early on this season.
Despite the freshman going 1-for-4 in the game, it was the one she made that counted most. Sanderlin's free throw with 3.4 seconds left in the game gave Wildwood Catholic High School a 39-38 victory over visiting St. Joseph on Tuesday night.
"Nervousness, and the game was on the line, because if I didn't make it, we have to go to overtime," Sanderlin said on what she was feeling at the line. "I still felt we would have won, but I still had to knock it down."
Sanderlin missed the first of two attempts. DiPatri called a timeout in between shots to settle his player down.
"I just tried to relax her," he said. "I said to them, 'I'm 99 percent sure Dani is gonna make this and there's a 1 percent chance that she isn't and just make sure we get into defensive position.' "
It was a night of celebration for Kennedy Johnson, who notched her 1,000th point on Dec. 29 against Washington Township and was honored before the game. The Michigan State-bound senior added 11 more points to that total in the game.
It was also the Crusaders' first home game of the season, and DiPatri's first coaching on the home side of the court. After spending 16 seasons at Sacred Heart, DiPatri has Wildwood Catholic off to a 5-1 start.
The Crusaders used a 13-3 run to open the game. Olivia Rulon scored seven of her 13 first-half points in the quarter. She finished the game with a game-high 16 points.
St. Joseph opened up the second quarter strong, inching closer to erasing the deficit.
The Wildcats got some help off the bench as Shannon Nelson hit a 3-pointer with just more than 2 minutes remaining in the half to tie it up, 21-21.
With the score tied at 23-23, Nelson hit a pair of free-throws with a minute left to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game. But a pair of free-throws from Rulon with 2 seconds left tied the game heading into halftime.
"I finally came out of my shell," Rulon said. "It's been a couple games, I hadn't been doing so well, but I finally got it back."
St. Joe kept the pressure going in the third quarter. They held the Crusaders scoreless until 1 minute, 40 seconds remaining in the period.
Becky Andress came off the bench for the Crusaders, scoring all five of her points in the second half.
"Becky did a great job tonight," DiPatri said. "She did some real nice things for us defensively and offensively, and our team is starting to fit into roles, and every night there's a different kid that steps up.
St. Joe led through the second half until Sanderlin tied it 36-36 with 4:53 remaining. With 2:07 to play, Johnson tied the game again at 38-38.
Sanderlin was working hard in the paint. Like the rest of her team, the Crusaders used a relentless attack to the basket to give them the best chance to win.
"We had to fight, because this was a big game for us," Sanderlin said. "We had to prove something since we're first and they're second (in the division). We had to get as dirty as possible and just pull out the win.
"It sets the tone for the season and just the CAL and everything. This is just the base of it, and we just have to build."
Contact John Russo:
St. Joseph 9 16 8 5-38
Wilwood Catholic 17 8 6 8-39
SJ-Dudo 3 2-2 10, Wetzel 2 0-0 4,Donohue 3-4 3, DiRenzo 3 5-9 12, Nilson 2 0-0 5, Kozachyn 2 0-0 4 . Totals-12 10-15 38.
WC-McCallion 1 0-0 2, Andress 1 3-4 5, Rulon 5 4-6 16, Johnson 5 1-3 11, Sanderlin 2 1-4 5. Totals-14 9-17 39.
3-pointers-Dudo (2), DiRenzo, Nilson S; Rulon (2).
Records-Wilwood Cath. 5-1; St. Joseph 3-2.