GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - The Absegami High School girls basketball team can again be mentioned as a Cape-Atlantic League contender.
The Braves rallied in the fourth quarter to stun Holy Spirit 36-33 in a CAL American Division game Monday night. Spirit (3-1) is ranked No. 8 in The Press Elite 11 and was coming off an impressive 15-point win over St. Joseph on Saturday.
In Monday's game, Absegami (4-0) trailed by five in the fourth quarter but closed the game with an 11-3 run. The win evoked memories of when the Braves were a CAL and state power. They won five CAL titles from 1999-2005. But Monday's win was Absegami's first over Spirit in six years.
"This feels great," said junior guard Eva Sodaitis, who sparked the comeback and scored a game-high 19 points. "I feel like we're coming back. We're here to play, and I feel like we're making our mark."
Spirit seemed headed for another win over the young Braves. The Spartans led 30-25 in the fourth quarter. Spirit built its lead with stingy defense and the scoring of Summer Crilley (12 points, six steals).
Absegami began its comeback with 3 minutes, 38 seconds left in the game.
Sodaitis rebounded a missed Braves foul shot and scored. She followed that basket with two shots and a driving layup to give the Braves a 31-30 lead with 1:51 left.
"We just had to play smart," Sodaitis said. "Every chance we got we had to go to the basket."
The Braves took the lead for good when sophomore forward Sara Pietropola sank two free throws to put them up 33-31 with 1:18 left. Pietropola had missed two foul shots earlier in the quarter.
"It was crazy," Pietropola said. "I had to pull through for my team. I was thinking about (the earlier misses), but I was trying not to think about them."
Pietropola and Mary Riggs then combined to sink 3-of-4 foul shots in the final 21 seconds to preserve the win.
"We're young, and we're learning," Spirit coach Dennis Smith said. "But that's a great job by Absegami. They took it from us. They wanted it more down the stretch then we did."
Spirit can't brood too much over the loss. The Spartans play at CAL contender Millville today.
Meanwhile, the young Braves were all smiles after the game. It's a victory Absegami can build on as the season progresses. The Braves feature just one senior in their playing rotation.
"The girls just had a desire to win," Absegami coach Meghan Tracey said. "I told them it was going to be about heart, and they dug deep."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Holy Spirit 10 7 9 7-33
Absegami 10 5 9 12-36
HS-Gallagher 0 3-4 3, Wilson 4 1-2 10, Long 1 0-0 2, Reale 2 0-0 4, Crilley 3 6-10 12, Neiderhofer 1 0-0 2. Totals 11 10-16 33.
AB-Pietropola 3 3-6 9, Sodaitis 7 5-7 19, Riggs 1 2-2 5, Gedeon 0 3-6 3, Clarke 0 0-3 0. Totals 11 13-24 36.
3-pointers-Wilson HS.; Riggs AB.
Records-Holy Spirit 3-1; Absegami 4-0