Absegami Girls Capture First Conference Title Since 2008
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — When the breaks are going against them and it seems like nothing can go right, and they’re on the short end of the scoreboard, the Absegami girls basketball players know just what to do — put the ball in the hands of Haleigh Schafer. The senior guard will be an NCAA Division II player next winter and is the most experienced of all the Braves players.
So, in her final game in the brown-and-gold, the Braves basically said, ‘go out and win this game for us.’ She did just that, scoring a game-high 20 points — including 10 in the fourth quarter — as Absegami rallied from a 34-30 deficit to beat Holy Spirit, 48-36, and claim the Braves’ first Cape-Atlantic League conference/division title since 2008. The Braves finished the season 10-1, including 9-1 in the CAL North, edging out Holy Spirit — the only team to beat Absegami this year. The Spartans dropped to 9-4 overall and 9-2 in the CAL North, and finish their season Saturday morning against Oakcrest.
“It was a great team effort and we all put our hearts out there for each other to beat a team we lost to by one (in the previous meeting). They are a great team but we just came together in that second half and we really worked together as a team. I couldn’t ask for a better team, a better group of girls to finish out with a win,” said Schafer, who also is a lacrosse star at Absegami. “I just wanted to have fun. I just wanted us to listen to Coach Bob (Lasko) and work as a team, because teamwork beats talent. I couldn’t ask for a better last game. It’s bittersweet because I’m going to miss this group of girls. They’re a special group here and Coach Bob has built a special team. I’m lucky to be a part of it.”
Neither team could take advantage of the frenetic pace through the first three quarters, as Absegami held just a 30-29 lead heading into the final frame. But Holy Spirit started the fourth with a scoop layup from Kendall Murphy and a big 3-pointer from Kira Murray to sprint to a 34-30 lead.
But then the Braves really picked it up on defense and went on a 15-0 run during a five-minute span to turn that four-point deficit into a 45-34 lead. Schafer scored to pull the Braves within 34-33, then Gelasia Nurse gave Absegami the lead for good with a baseline drive that made it 35-34. Schafer followed with another bucket in transition and Chi Chi Wokocha came through with a huge 3-point play that pushed Gami’s lead to 40-34. Schafer helped seal the win from the free-throw line, as in the fourth quarter she nailed 6-of-8 from the stripe.
“She’s basically been my partner in crime since the fourth grade, like she said. Whenever I need help she has my back and we trust her with the ball more than anybody. Whenever the ball is in her hands I know our team is safe,” said Absegami junior poit guard Jackie Fortis. “This year was not easy, so the fact that (we won a conference title) with all this madness going on, what are the odds? But we’ve been working for this since Day One, that’s the goal (Lasko) set for us and the fact that we achieved it is amazing. We’re really happy.”
Holy Spirit coach Tim Whitworth loves to play an up-tempo style, but Abegami forced a slew of turnovers in the second half and held the Spartans to just five points in the third quarter.
“That’s what we struggled with a lot this year. When we start to struggle, you really see that we start to really struggle to score the ball. We just kind of catch the ball and we’re in a rush. Yes, we want to play fast, but there’s a difference — what’s the old saying, ‘be quick but don’t be in a hurry’? I think that’s kind of what our issue has been, we turn and don’t have the patience to find the open player,” Whitworth said. “Coming to Gami is a tough place to play. Give them credit, I thought they played well and they handled our pressure well. I said the only way we could win this game was to make it our style, but we kind of struggled with that tonight. We threw the ball away a lot.”
Fortis finished with nine points for Absegami and said the Braves definitely wanted some payback against a team that ruined their chance for an undefeated season with a 46-45 back on Feb. 20.
“The whole game (it was on our mind). That and it being the last game of the season,” she said of Gami’s motivating factors. “Normally, we don’t know when it will be the last game of the season but this year we knew, and knowing it was against Spirit, and that we lost to them last time, we just had a drive and a fire inside of us and that pushed us through the whole game.
Schafer was a part of 50 wins during her Absegami career and helped the Braves go from 10-16 when she was a freshman to conference champions as a senior.
“It’s been great. Absegami is such a great school with great people, and to be considered the leader of this team is amazing. I’m honored, and I just hope I have set a great example to the girls because they’ve been like sisters to me,” she said. “Jackie and I have been together since fourth grade, so it’s going to be hard leaving here. But we did something special and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Holy Spirit also has made big strides under coach Whitworth since last year, turning around a 10-15 mark to go 9-4 this year with one game left to go.
“I’m really proud of these girls. They fight, and you can’t ask for anything more as a coach than for your kids to go out and play hard every single night, which they do,” Whitworth said. “I’m excited because we only have two seniors, so we have a lot of young kids on the roster and they’ll learn from this. That’s the most important thing, they’ll learn from what happened tonight.”
What’s next: Absegami’s season is complete. Holy Spirit hosts Oakcrest on Saturday at 10 a.m.