CAPE MAY - Lauren Holden took over Tuesday night.
The Lower Cape May Regional High School senior had to. When Madie Gibson fouled out early in the fourth quarter and the Caper Tigers down six, Holden played arguably the best basketball of her life.
Holden scored Lower's last 18 points as the Caper Tigers won their first South Jersey championship, beating Sterling 58-55 in overtime in the Group II final.
The top-seeded Caper Tigers advance to play Manasquan at Williamstown High School on Thursday in the state semifinal.
"This was honestly the best (game of my life)," said Holden, who scored a game-high 35 points. "We won as a team today. Tonight we played for each other."
With the game tied, Holden burned almost all of the final 2 minutes. As the seconds wound down, she looked for Kaylee Devine, who couldn't hit the go-ahead basket with 2.9 seconds left.
Sterling junior Jordan Wallace's half-court heave hit the backboard to send the game into overtime tied 46-46.
Holden continued to dominate in overtime, scoring all 12 of Lower's points. Her 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 8 seconds left gave the Caper Tigers a 50-46 lead.
Lower kept feeding her the ball, and Sterling was forced to foul her. She went 9-for-11 from the free-throw line in overtime.
All of those days practicing free throws finally paid off, she said.
It was as if all of Cape May was at the high school Tuesday. Cars were already illegally parked outside the gymnasium and the gym was filled a half hour before the game.
They were there to witness history.
"The turnout was awesome," said Gibson, who finished with 12 points and five steals. "The whole school came out to support us. Having them come out like this, you want to win for them. It's just awesome."
Lower jumped out to a 14-2 run in the first five minutes of the game with Holden scoring the first 10 points.
Sterling began to double-team Holden, forcing turnovers and rushed shots. Sterling scored seven unanswered points to close out the first and carried that momentum into the second quarter.
Sterling took its first lead with 3:06 left in the half, and built a 22-18 lead thanks to a 20-4 run that started in the first quarter.
Sterling's 6-foot-2 forward, Wallace, battling double teams down low for most of the first half, was a handful for Lower. She scored nine points with five rebounds and was difficult to get around when Lower's guards drove the lane.
Lower suffered a huge blow early in the fourth when Gibson fouled out. Her last two fouls were controversial.
On her fourth foul, the Lower coaches pled their cases with the refs that she wasn't near the play. On Sterling's next possession, Gibson commited her fifth foul on incidental contact.
"I was kind of annoyed," Gibson said. "But I encouraged my team to step up and they did. They believed they could do this."
Lower battled back to tie it 44-44 on Holden's layup and free throws with 2:33 left. Every time Sterling scored, Holden had an answer, whether it was from the free throw line, driving the lane or from beyond the arch.
"We asked her to take the game over, and she did," Lower coach Scott Douglass said. "What a performance. That's one of the best girl's basketball performances I've seen from an individual ever."
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Sterling 9 15 12 10 12- 55
Lower Cape May 14 10 11 11 9 -58
S – Budd 7, Robinson 16, Lambert 6, Naone-Carter 3, Wallace 13, Shinkowitz 10.
LCM – Holden 35, Gibson 12, Sulecki 4, Young 5, Young 2.
3-pointers – Robinson S; Holden 2 LCM
Records – Sterling 24-4, Lower Cape May 27-2.