From the jump, this season opener was a big boys' basketball game for both teams, and the importance wasn't lost on Malcolm Chase.
Chase, a Penns Grove guard, scored a game-high 23 points to lead the Red Devils to a 43-39 victory over host Gloucester Catholic on Friday night in a Tri-County Diamond Division game.
"It was important because they beat us twice last year, [once in] triple overtime, so we wanted to come out here and set the tone and let them know that they're not going to beat us any more," Chase said.
"This was a good [division] start."
The Red Devils took a 7-0 lead with an up-tempo game that fed off full-court presses, half-court presses, and traps that caused turnovers and points for the visitors.
By intermission, the Rams had worked their way back into the game with good second-period defense, and despite committing nine of their 20 turnovers, held a 20-19 lead.
Junior point guard Robbie Alessandrine, who tied the score, 15-15, with a short jumper 4 minutes, 30 seconds into the second period, sank two free throws with 46 seconds left in the second quarter to give Gloucester Catholic the one-point lead.
"We knew it [defensive pressure] was coming and we were prepared for it," said Alessandrine (team-high 13 points).
"We knew we had a good amount of turnovers but we still played well."
Fans included the "Bleacher Creatures," about 200 yellow T-shirt-clad teens sitting at the opposite end of the stage, to lend vociferous support to the Rams.
But their chants and stomps weren't enough to enable the home team to hold onto the five-point lead it took in the early part of the third quarter, when the Rams led, 24-19.
"In the second half, we played good defense but their defense was just as good as ours," Alessandrine said.
Actually, the Red Devils' defense was a little better. And Chase got better with the ball in his hands, scoring 14 points after intermission.
"I felt like I was on in the second half, so I took more shots," Chase said. "We wanted to speed 'em up. We all knew that Gloucester Catholic loves to play slow so the game plan was to speed 'em up, make 'em get out of their game, and cause turnovers."
Gloucester Catholic coach Todd Powers said that Penns Grove's aggressive defense was no surprise to him and his players, who were prepared for it.
"Our inability to handle their defensive pressure, the turnovers and our ineptitude in scoring were the keys to the game," Powers said.
Penns Grove coach Kemp Carr said that his undersized team wanted to use its foot speed and athleticism to cause havoc and cause turnovers and get some layups."
And the Red Devils did just that.
On its way to the division title last season, Gloucester Catholic beat Penns Grove twice, the second time in triple overtime.
Penns Grove 13 6 16 8 - 43
Gloucester Catholic 11 9 13 6 - 39
PG: Garrett Wilson 8, Malcolm Chase 23, Ky Brown 2, GeShawn Davis 10.
GC: Kevin Cano 3, Steve Mainart 7, Mike Okafor 4, Robbie Alessandrine 13, Ryan Schoppy 2, Mike Shawaryn 6, Mike Scharle 4.