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Late surge carries Delran to opening win

One is a young team with a future as bright as any team in South Jersey.

One is a young team with a future as bright as any team in South Jersey.

The other is a group of gritty veterans ready to win now, and they did.

On the road, with a young and hungry Holy Cross storming back, the Delran girls' basketball team simply played its game.

In a moment when experience can make all the difference, the Bears, up by just one point, ripped off a 21-2 run midway through the fourth quarter, putting away their division foe in a 65-54, opening-night win Friday.

"In that moment, we knew that we just had to look for each other. We've been playing together for a long time, and we knew where each other was going to be and when we were going to be there," said Delran senior guard Taylor Umbrell, who scored a game-high 21 points and was equally effective on defense.

"It was a big win. But we scouted them, we were prepared, we worked hard, and we got the win."

That win gives Delran an edge in a division, the Burlington County Patriot, that should be the toughest in South Jersey. Delran opened the season as the Inquirer's No. 4 team in South Jersey, Holy Cross (0-1) as the No. 3 team, and division favorite Willingboro as No. 2.

Last season, Holy Cross and Delran shared the division title after splitting two matchups.

"It feels nice to take our first game against such a big opponent," said junior forward Aliyah Murray, who finished with 17 points and shined in the fourth quarter when she netted six points and pulled down three rebounds. "We knew we had to finish. And I was just trying to do my best to help us get the win."

Delran had been working with a comfortable lead for much of the second half before Holy Cross went on a 9-2 run that cut the Bears' lead to one at 44-43 with 6 minutes, 35 seconds left.

For the rest of the game, it was all Delran.

The Bears denied the Lancers any chance to get back in the game thanks to their ability to force turnovers, win the battles under the basket, and score big baskets when they had to.

Center Crystal Cleveland was particularly dominant under the boards. She finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds.

"I was hoping that our experience was going to help us, and I think it did a little bit," Delran coach Pete Miles said.

Holy Cross, with a freshman, two sophomores, and two seniors in its starting five, came out shooting in the first quarter.

The team quickly jumped out to a 9-4 lead thanks to a run-and-gun spurt led by sophomore point guard Alliya Butts (18 points) and freshman forward Aliyah Jeune.

In her first high school game, the highly touted Jeune was hot in the opening minutes of the first quarter, scoring seven of her 17 points in a little more than four minutes.

But Jeune went down with an ankle injury midway through the first quarter. She missed the rest of the period, and when she came back - hobbled with the injury - Jeune and the Lancers could not find a rhythm again until their late comeback attempt.

"We executed the game plan early on, but I think we got out of what we were supposed to do," Holy Cross coach Fred Philipps said. "We have some very talented young ladies. . . . Hopefully, this game will wake us up and we will learn to play more as a team."

Delran   14 17 13 21 – 65

Holy Cross   18 8 11 17 – 54

D: Tara Ballay 10, Nicole Bayer 2, Crystal Cleveland 11, Gena Gizzi 4, Aliyah Murray 17, Taylor Umbrell 21.

HC: Alliya Butts 18, Ashli Jeune 12, Aliyah Jeune 17, Jazlyn Johnson 1, Amanda Offenback 6.