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Garner and Camden Catholic girls top Eastern

At some point in the first quarter it became clear that Brittany Garner was playing a slightly different game than everyone else on the court.

At some point in the first quarter it became clear that Brittany Garner was playing a slightly different game than everyone else on the court.

At 6-foot-4, she was the tallest player by far.

But no one else looked as light on their feet.

Garner is nimble and smooth. She has an arsenal of moves, but, really, she needed only one: One dribble. One spin. Put the ball in the net.

And if she missed, she had the power to get her own rebound - and get it again and again and again.

Opposing players didn't have much say in the matter.

Friday night, in the opening of the South Jersey basketball season, the only reminder left that Garner is fresh off knee surgery was the brace on her left leg.

In her first game back since tearing her left anterior cruciate ligament just before her sophomore season, Garner, a junior center, filled up the stat sheet with 32 points, six rebounds, three blocks, two assists, and two steals as her Camden Catholic Irish topped host Eastern, 78-50.

"No, not at all," Irish coach Chris Palladino said when asked if she thought her star player was finally back to full strength. "I think she only gets better from here."

As a freshman, Garner averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds and looked like a prodigy.

She tore her ACL in the preseason last year and didn't see any action as a sophomore.

On Friday night it looked as if Garner was releasing some pent-up energy.

The game also showed that, while she still might need to work out some kinks with her knee, she's likely to pick up where she left off as a freshman.

"It felt so amazing just to be out there again. I missed it so much," Garner said. "I was nervous coming into the game, but I just went out there and played my hardest. I felt that rush again and just felt great the whole game."

Garner started playing basketball again in July and has been slowly increasing her minutes. She wasn't on a restriction Friday, but, with the game in hand, she sat for good with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Going through the injury "was really difficult. It was frustrating, but I worked hard to get to this point, and I feel like I'm almost back to where I want to be," Garner said.

Garner is the centerpiece of South Jersey's most imposing frontcourt.

Forwards Katie Deutsch (14 points, 5 rebounds) and Eliana Santana (11 points, 9 rebounds) helped Camden Catholic jump out to an early lead that it never lost in a game that was never in question.

"We have a great young freshman and sophomore class, and there's a lot of potential there," said Eastern coach Joe Murphy, whose team was led by Danielle Jackson's 10 points. "We showed a lot of good things, but we just didn't have the strength to compete with this team."

Camden Catholic also benefited from the presence of point guard Cherelle Washington (13 points), who moved with her family from Florida before the season.

Washington is fast and athletic, and perhaps her greatest asset to the team is that she's an elite passer when it comes to dumping the ball off down low.

"That's what makes this so exciting," Garner said. "We've been working hard. We do have a natural chemistry, and we think we can do big things as a team this year.

"For myself, I just want to get my name back out there. I want everyone to know that I'm back."

Camden Catholic 21 20 17 20 - 78

Eastern 10 12 16 12 - 50

CC: Brittany Garner 32, Katie Deutsch 14, Eliana Santana 11, Cherelle Washington 13, Maggie Bednarek 2, Brynn Eilbacher 6.

E: Kelli McGroarty 9, Tori Accardo 5, Alyssa Bentz 4, Gabriella Payne 7, Leah Manchel 7, Anna Accardo 8, Danielle Jackson 10.