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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

HHS girls fall in quarterfinal

Dan Russoman/THG. Hammonton’s Kiley Kozlowski drives past Mainland defender Kasey Bretones late in last week’s game.

LINWOOD—Taking on perhaps the best team in southern New Jersey, Hammonton High School’s girls basketball team came up short in a South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinal playoff game on February 26, dropping a lopsided 69-30 decision to the host Mustangs.

Mainland was in control start to finish, using crisp ball movement and tight man-to-man defense to create turnovers and points in transition to grab a commanding 31-5 lead in the first quarter.

Hammonton never recovered, and although the Blue Devils played better and with more confidence in the last three quarters, they were overmatched the entire game.

“It was one of those games where the girls played as well as they can and today, we just fell short of what we can do,” Hammonton coach Ryan Staiger said.

Mainland features a deep, experienced roster. Several Mustangs are headed to college on scholarships and their talent proved too much for the Blue Devils to handle in last week’s game.

Mainland’s ability to run the floor, pass the ball to open players and force Hammonton into mistakes was too much for the Blue Devils to handle.

“When you go against three or four scholarship players, it’s tough because some things that we’ve been doing, we maybe get away with, when you’re going against girls who can play at the next level, they’re going to expose you,” Staiger said.

Hammonton had trouble keeping Mainland off the scoreboard early in the game, as the Mustangs forced turnovers that led to points on the break, using quick ball movement to generate uncontested layups and open jump shots.

The Blue Devils settled down in the second quarter and were able to create a few good looks at the basket.

“The girls got a little more confident as the game went on, but you just can’t fall behind that much to a team like that,” Staiger said.

Junior Kiley Kozlowski led Hammonton with 10 points in the loss, while Jenna Vivadelli added nine.

The loss left Hammonton with a 15-12 record, a mark that few expected from the Blue Devils this season.

Hammonton entered the year having lost four starters from a season ago, including almost all of the Blue Devils scoring.

“The thing is, overall, I’m proud of the girls. We have a great group of girls and I’m proud of what we did this season, and we came out and played against one of the best teams in South Jersey,” Staiger said.

The loss also ended Staiger’s first season as Hammonton’s head coach. Knowing that the Blue Devils would need to rebuild at least a little this season, he set reasonable expectations, speculating that the team might win six or seven games.

Asked if he was surprised by this winter’s success, he laughed.

“Absolutely,” Staiger said.

“The big thing is to always improve and with the great team we had last year, we didn’t get out of the first round. This year, we got to the quarterfinal which is an awesome feat for our team. We’re building the foundation and I’m really excited for the girls, and it was awesome to see the girls respond and play against higher level talent especially because in our division, we don’t see that level every night. So, it was good to see them compete against that level of talent,” he said.

One of the goals of young teams like Hammonton is to be better at the end of the season than at the beginning. Staiger said he definitely feels the Blue Devils were at their best at the end of the year.

“Without a doubt. Hands down if we played the same team we played in our season opener, we would win that game by 15 points. That’s always our goal, are we better than day one? And I can say, hands down without hesitation, we are better now,” Staiger said.


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