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Central Girls Down Lacey in South Jersey III Quarterfinals

Golden Eagles advance to semifinals; Lions finish out best season in three years

The Central Regional girls basketball team has been aiming for this all season.

After defeating rival Lacey 41-34 in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III tournament on Wednesday, the Golden Eagles are one step away from making school history.

Central advanced to the South Jersey Group III semifinal for the first time since 2001. If the Golden Eagles can beat top-seeded Delsea -- which beat Lower Cape May 41-39 on a shot at the buzzer -- on Friday night, they will reach the sectional final for the first time in school history.

"It's one thing to be playing big games in March," Central Regional coach John Truhan said. "It's another to win big games in March. We want to win the next one."

"It's do or die now," said senior Tiffany Williams. "Especially since we're seniors, you know when it ends, you're done."

Central (16-8) played with that sense of urgency on Wednesday night. After a slow first quarter that ended with Lacey leading 9-8, the Golden Eagles got fired up.

"Our youth was exposed early on," Truhan said. "That's a credit to Lacey. They really came after us."

Led by Rachel Iozzia, Central -- which had been seemingly content to shootfrom the perimeter -- began driving into the paint, challenging the Lions' man-to-man defense.

"I was nervous all day," said Iozzia, who finished with 16 points, "but when they started off in a zone (defense) I was more relaxed.

"Once they went to man (to-man defense), I took off," she said.

"We wanted to try to send a cutter through to see what their defense would do," Truhan said. "Rachel did a great job of recognizing the gaps in their defense and taking advantage of them."

"That's just Rachel growing up as a point guard," Truhan said.

Central also got a boost from Kayla Heline, who came off the bench to provide a presence down low, grabbing 10 rebounds for the Eagles.

"That was huge," Truhan said.

Lacey (16-9), which trailed by 5 points at the start of the fourth quarter, drew to within two, 28-26, with 4:45 left when Brittany Biele picked off a Central pass and drove for a basket.

But Williams inbounded to Iozzia, who put up a scoring shot and was fouled. Iozzia's successful free throw made it 31-26. A frenzied exchange of turnovers and plays ensued, and Truhan called timeout to settle his team down. Central scored immediately after the timeout, with Brianne Allender driving and getting fouled for the first of five trips to the line in the last 4 minutes of the game. Allender hit 8 of 9 free throws in the fourth quarter for Central.

A minute later, Iozzia scored on a nice little hook shot that gave her six points in the quarter and put Central ahead 34-28. Lacey was unable to close gap.

"Two years ago we were 0-18," Lacey coach Patricia Cooke said. "We start three sophomores, a junior who didn't play as a freshman, so that's like being a sophomore, and one senior. They've come a long way."

"We had more turnovers than they did tonight, and that comes with having a young team," she said.

Tayler Batalla finished with 12 points for Lacey, while Central held Jenna Fleck, the Lions' senior leader, to just 5.

"Last year we lost the close games," Cooke said. "This year we won them. We got to the second round of the states, that's pretty good."

"I'm looking forward to next year," Cooke said.

Central, meanwhile, is focused on right now, in particular the matchup on Friday with Delsea.

"We have to be a lot more focused on the bus and until we get on the court," Eagles senior Ashley Bernath said. "We don't want this to end."

Christine Dwight March 01, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Great job girls!


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