The number on the banner was impressive.

But it wasn't the number Chris Palladino talked about most after the win.

"I didn't even realize this during the game," Palladino said, "but I can't believe how many former players were here tonight."

"That's what's really special," she added. "That's what it's all about."

Palladino won the 600th game of her legendary coaching career Friday night when her Camden Catholic girls' basketball team topped Shawnee, 58-37, in front of a packed home crowd in the season opener.

Palladino, in her 32d year coaching Camden Catholic, is just the second area coach to reach the milestone, behind only Dave Trioiano from Wildwood.

"It was fun," said Palladino, who was presented with flowers, a plaque, a banner, and a group shot with dozens of former players after the game. "I'm not good at this stuff. But this was special."

The veteran coach can be humble to a fault, and she hid the milestone from her team until late this preseason.

After the game, she even joked "I'm glad this one's over."

But the emotion and gratitude was clear on her face after the win with each hug and handshake she received.

For all her success on the court, the culture and tradition Palladino built off the court has had a lasting effect on the lives of hundreds of former players.

"She's like a mom to us," senior guard Taiah Thornton said. "I'm so honored to even be a part of a win like this."

Thornton, who looks like an early candidate for Player of the Year, was dominant Friday. She generated 25 points, five rebounds, six assists and five steals.

She led a lightning-fast effort by a Camden Catholic team playing without star center Brittany Garner.

Garner sprained her knee on Tuesday and is tentatively expected to miss about two weeks.

Without the 6-foot-3 sophomore, the Irish played relentless defense, and scored almost all of their points in transition.

The team's three senior guards - Thornton, Julia Braungart (18 points, 5 steals), and Sierra Taylor, (6 points, 6 rebounds) - showed why Camden Catholic, ranked No. 2 in South Jersey by The Inquirer, could be poised for a big season.

"The fast break really motivated us and got us going," Braungart said. "We've just been connecting and everything clicked tonight."

Camden Catholic controlled most of the game outside of a brief stretch in the second quarter when Shawnee senior guard Jen Byrne (18 points) got hot from beyond the arc, hitting four three-pointers in a four-minute span.

"Jen stepped up today, and we'll be looking for her to do that every game," said Shawnee coach Chrissy McGovern, whose team has three new starters. "This was a tough first matchup, especially with the inexperience we have."

Shawnee 2 14 10 11 - 37

Camden Catholic 15 8 22 13 - 58

S: Jen Byrne 18, Liza Barr 4, Jenna Hoffner 6, Olivia Schuck 2, Molly Baechler 3, Jess Pratt 1, Erika Bar 3.

CC: Taiah Thornton 25, Sierra Taylor 6, Julia Braungart 18, Kate Duetch 7, Elliana Santana 2.