Natalya Lee led the Rancocas Valley girls' basketball team to a state title last season. She sparked the team to a comeback in last year's South Jersey Invitational Basketball Tournament championship game. She's a four-year varsity player.
Lee doesn't get nervous.
At the free-throw line, in the fourth quarter of a close game in front of a big crowd, Lee said, she is past the point of butterflies.
"I'm a senior now, I've been through it all," Lee said after hitting 6 of 8 free throws and scoring eight of her team's 12 fourth-quarter points in a wild 63-59 win over Willingboro at home Tuesday night. "I'm ready for those situations. I just try to stay focused and hit the shots."
Lee's 21 points were a team high. But it took more than strong play from the shifty guard for the Red Devils to hold the Chimeras at bay.
Sophomore center Lauren Moses had a big night with 12 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 blocks. And Brianna Logan, one of the catalysts of a fast-paced game, chipped in 15 points, including eight in the first quarter.
The game was a showdown between The Inquirer's preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams. RV (2-0) opened the season at No. 1, and though the Red Devils trailed only for a brief period in the second quarter, it took everything the team had to keep up with Willingboro (1-2).
The Chimeras' full-court traps through the entire game made for a lot of transition scoring, a lot of turnovers, and a lot headaches for both head coaches.
"This is the first time in 11 years that I've lost my voice during a game," said RV coach Anthony Corrado, "The game was everything it was billed to be - One vs. Two. It could have gone either way."
In a testament to how quickly both teams can score, RV was ahead by 16-2 with just over three minutes left to play in the first quarter.
Willingboro stormed back, tying the score at 19-19 at the buzzer.
The Chimeras were paced by junior forward Micahya Owens (21 points) and sophomore guard Kara Cezar (16 points).
The two teams went back and forth for the final three quarters.
With less than 10 seconds left in the first half, a Willingboro guard had the ball smacked out of her hand just past midcourt, With the ball rolling toward the opposite net, several Willingboro players jogged just behind the ball - waiting for it to roll out of bounds.
Suddenly, RV's Sabrina Jackson stormed down the court, and just before the ball went out of bounds she grabbed it, put it in at the buzzer, was fouled, and converted the three-point play. The sequence put RV ahead by 40-34 at the half - giving RV a much-needed three points and setting the tone for the rest of the game.
"That play was all hustle, that's what we preach," Corrado said. "We don't stop until the horn sounds. That was huge in terms of momentum and in giving us those three points before the half."
Both teams had chances to pull away in the second half, but not until Lee's inspired fourth quarter did RV seal the game.
"She's money," Corrado said.
Said Willingboro coach Marchelle Coleman: "We made too many mistakes."
Willingboro 19 15 13 12 - 59
Rancocas Valley 19 21 11 12 - 63
W: Gabby Bennett 6, Kara Cezar 16, Vanessa Francis 1, Taylor Lewis 6, Micahya Owens 21, Aaliyah Saud-Lewis 3, Imani Stepney 6.