Jessica Mulligan could barely make it through the door.

"I felt like the mayor. There were lines of people waiting to give me a hug," she said.

For Mulligan, Tuesday night was a brief walk down memory lane. For players on both teams, it was a reminder of what high school basketball can be.

Twenty-five years ago, Mulligan was the star player on the Sterling girls' basketball team. She scored 2,516 career points and led her team to back-to-back state titles in 1989 and 1990.

She was on the Sterling floor again as a first-year head coach of Haddonfield, her alma mater's oldest rival. Sterling won, 63-38. But the night was much more than a game.

It as if Mulligan never left. And in some ways, like so many who helped fill the stands, she never really did.

"This place is not a four-year, in-and-out experience," said Mulligan.

The coach was joined at halftime by former teammates and coach Bill Ulrich for a ceremony noting the 25-year anniversary of the 1989 state championship. It was a fitting tribute held by one of South Jersey's most tight-knit girls' basketball communities.

"You come in here and you build bonds that last a lifetime," Mulligan said, "That's what this is all about. So it was really nice to be a part of."

Sterling (1-1) jumped out to a 10-point first-quarter lead and led Haddonfield (1-1) by double figures the rest of the way.

The night belonged to the Sterling basketball community, generations of whom were on hand - many are still regulars at games.

"The thing that means the most is when I have my own players come back, to know that we're continuing that family," said Sterling coach Kate McDonald, herself a 1994 Sterling graduate who netted 2,090 points in a Silver Knights uniform. "I want players to see that when you leave, you're still part of that tradition."

It was something current players certainly took note of and appreciated.

"It's an honor to play here," said junior center Jordan Wallace, who led all scorers with 18 points to go with 14 rebounds. "Seeing that tradition is definitely something we use as motivation."

Haddonfield 8 12 13 5 - 38

Sterling 18 14 14 17 - 63

H: Julianna Kadar 5, Taylor Sehdev 5, CC Mooney 3, Mary Kelly 4, Meg Smart 12, Annie Stanton 9.

S: Dom Budd 11, Shanell Robinson 2, Brennah Lambert 11, Ke'alohilani Naone-Carter 11, Jordan Wallace 18, Sabrina Shinkowitz 4, Leila Zapala 6.

rallyscores@phillynews.com

@ChrisMelchiorre