• Dan Russoman

Blue Devils fall to Timber Creek


Hammonton’s Emma Peretti (34) shoots past Burlington Twp.’s Taylor Bristout (10). (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

ERIAL—Looking to advance to the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals, Hammonton High School’s girls basketball team was denied by host Timber Creek in last week’s quarterfinal matchup, falling to the Chargers 63-39.


Timber Creek controlled both the pace of the game and the boards, outrebounding Hammonton and forcing the Blue Devils into several costly turnovers.


“I’m disappointed because I thought we had the right game plan, but we just got killed on the boards. The second chance scoring killed us,” Hammonton coach Mike Velardi said.


It was those second and third chance scoring opportunities that made the difference for Timber Creek, as the Chargers were able to extend their possessions while often limiting Hammonton to just one shot each trip down the court.


“We tried to adjust, put more girls underneath, but they out-jumped us and that was a huge difference in the game,” Velardi said.


Timber Creek mixed shots from Jessenia Edwards, Amaya Burch and Jazmine Johnson to take an early 7-2 lead, but Hammonton cut the deficit to just one point early in the second quarter behind two baskets from Giada Palmieri.


Hammonton’s defense was focused on controlling Burch, one of the region’s top offensive players. The talented senior was held in check for much of the first half, but Timber Creek’s guards, led by Edwards and Nal’La Bennett, made several shots to help the Chargers stay on top.


“That was our game plan, to not let her [Burch] hurt us and I thought we did a good job early, but their other girls were hitting shots,” Velardi said.


In addition to the short jump shots, Timber Creek was forcing turnovers with an aggressive pressure defense that led to several easy points in transitions.


It was those points, some of which came in an 8-0 Timber Creek run in the second quarter, that helped the Chargers take a 25-18 halftime lead.


Hammonton’s struggles continued in the third quarter, as Timber Creek continued to force turnovers, grab rebounds and find the basket, using an 11-0 run to all but seal the win.


During the run, Burch began to find her rhythm, scoring eight points in the period before adding seven more in the fourth quarter on her way to a game-high 21 points.


“Burch is a great player, and once they were able to get her more involved, we were in trouble,” Velardi said.


While Burch was leading her team, Hammonton’s All-South Jersey forward, Emma Peretti, was being held in check by Timber Creek’s defense. Peretti finished the game with 16 points, but half of those came in the fourth quarter when Hammonton trailed by as many as 20 points.


“I thought we did OK offensively. Emma was shut down a little but G [Palmieri] had a good game and we kept it close in the first half. But we just made too many turnovers,” Velardi said.


Palmieri finished the game with 18 points, the high for the Blue Devils.


“They [Timber Creek] were just too good. We didn’t get the momentum early. We wanted to see if they could beat us from the outside and they hit shots,” Velardi said.


The win came on the heels of Hammonton’s 63-36 opening round win against Burlington Twp.

In that game, it was the Blue Devils who controlled things early, using a 16-5 first-quarter run to cruise to the victory.


Ava Divello’s eight points powered the early run for Hammonton, while Peretti proved tough to stop for the visiting Falcons, finishing the game with 23 points and 27 rebounds.


Eight of those points came in the second quarter when Hammonton broke the game open with a 20-9 run. Palmieri added 13 points while Shamaya Simola finished with eight points, five rebounds and five assists.


“I thought we played very well. We were a little worried because we weren’t sure what to expect from Burlington Twp. But we started well, controlled things and I thought our defense was excellent. Emma controlled things inside and when Ava and Giada are hitting shots, we’re tough to beat,” Velardi said.


As for the season, Hammonton left Timber Creek disappointed with its playoff loss but confident that it can return even better next season.


“Look, if you told me we’d win 15 games I’m not sure I would have believed it. But we went 15-10 in a really tough division and we only lose one player. So, I think we’ll add some girls and be even better next season,” Velardi said.