In a season and division opener wrapped into one basketball game last night, the Cinnaminson and Willingboro girls had more than one reason to play at a high level.
Cinnaminson's Courtney Colella best exemplified that sense of importance by making two clutch free throws with the score tied to win the game in double overtime, 59-57, in the opening Burlington County Patriot Division battle for both teams.
Cinnaminson coach Bill McCartney, the Pirates' head coach for 15 years, said it was the first time that one of his teams won on Willingboro's hardwood.
"All I could think about was winning because last season we ended with a rough game against Willingboro," Colella said.
The junior forward, who scored seven points and grabbed eight rebounds, was referring to last season's loss to Willingboro in the quarterfinal round of the South Jersey Group 2 tournament after beating the Chimeras out for the division crown.
Colella and her fellow Pirates seemed to be cruising to an easy victory by intermission, when they had a 26-12 lead over the Chimeras, who started four freshman.
However, Willingboro came roaring back after the break. Cinnaminson seemed to sag defensively, and the game was tied five times before Colella ended the suspense on the free-throw line.
With 19 seconds left in the second overtime, Alicia Griffin, the Chimeras' only senior to start the game, became the fourth Willingboro player to foul out, something that coach Guy Fowler said had never happened to his teams in the last 10 years.
"We're young, so we don't know how to close out games, yet," Fowler said. "It was our game. We gave it away, but with a young team it's like that.
"We were flat, and nerves were the problem in the first half. Nerves were over after the first half, and we had to push the tempo a little more."
Freshman guard Aaliyah Saud-Lewis gave Willingboro its first lead of the game, 37-36, when she drove for a layup with 57 seconds remaining in the fourth period.
In the third quarter, Saud-Lewis pumped in 11 points, nine on three-pointers, to spark Willingboro, which drew within six points, 33-27.
"She's a scorer, and I like her on the wing, because she's a good catch-and-shoot," Fowler said. "She attacks the basket well."
But the Pirates had more than one heroine in the game. Senior guard Christine Gannon, who played with a bad shoulder, tied the score, 39-39, at the end of regulation with an NBA three-pointer. Gannon, who scored a team-high 18 points, also knotted the score, 46-46, with her second three in the first overtime period.
Junior guard Erin Woods evened the score, 48-48, by sinking a pair of free throws at the end of the first overtime, and freshman forward Melissa Tarte tied the score at 56 before Colella made it 57-57 and then put the Pirates ahead.
Cinnaminson 15 11 7 6 9 11 - 59
Willingboro 5 7 15 12 9 9 - 57
C: Christine Gannon 18, Vicki Sucharski 17, Courtney Colella 7, Erin Woods 3, Caitlin Caruso 3, Sheron Howard 3, Shannon Pokuska 3, Melissa Tarte 5.
W: Imani Stepney 2, Aaliyah Saud-Lewis 18, Micahya Owens 29, Taylor Lewis 2, Alicia Griffin 2, Patrice Howard 4.