Members of the Vineland and Millville high school boys’ basketball teams were ramped up already for Opening Night of the 2012-13 hoops season.
But Friday took on a whole new meaning for the Fighting Clan and Thunderbolts when the rivals learned months back when the schedules were released that the two programs would meet to open the year.
“It definitely added a lot of pressure to see them right off the bat,” Vineland senior forward Charlie Ware said.
“It’s an exciting way to start the year,” Millville senior guard Rashon Sorrell added. “We usually only see them twice in a season, so this is a big first game.”
Bragging rights belong with the Bolts for now.
Sorrell scored a game-high 16 points and guard Khaliq Ford added 15 as Millville topped host Vineland, 56-51, in a Cape-Atlantic League American Conference game at Irv Gosman Court.
“You always want to start strong, and to beat Vineland in their house, that was important for us,” said Ford, a junior. “There’s a lot on the line when you’re playing them and we were focused.”
The Bolts (1-0) opened a 17-8 lead over the Fighting Clan (0-1) after the first quarter before taking a comfortable 34-24 advantage into halftime thanks to a balanced offensive effort. Sorrell and Ford scored eight and nine points, respectively, in the first half, while senior guard Bishop Evans also contributed nine points after two quarters.
Evans would finish with 13 points in the game, giving Millville three double-digit scorers.
“We want to get everybody involved,” Sorrell said. “We feel like we have a lot of different guys who can score.”
Vineland’s turnover frequency certainly helped the Bolts establish an offensive rhythm. The Clan gave it away nine times alone in the first quarter, but the team’s most crucial turnovers came in the second half just when the group was showing signs of life.
A 6-0 Vineland run to start the third quarter thanks to buckets by Eddie Thomas, Jairo Rivas and Ware pulled the score to 34-30, but the Bolts used Clan turnovers on the next two possessions to reopen a 38-30 lead. Vineland again chipped away as a layup by sophomore forward Alphonso Smith with 4 minutes, 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter narrowed the Clan’s deficit to 41-38, only to see ball security become an issue once more.
Millville’s Terron Mitchell hit a free throw to put the Bolts up 42-38 and Vineland had giveaways its next three times down the court to spur a 7-2 Bolts run and 48-40 advantage with 2:37 left in regulation.
“Our main focus coming into this game was to limit turnovers and that’s the very thing that killed us,” said Thomas, who led Vineland with 13 points and six rebounds. “We didn’t meet our goal (Friday) and it’s something we have to fix if we want to get on the path to a successful season.”
Mitchell, a first-year varsity contributor, put the exclamation point on Millville’s win with a one-hand slam with just over a minute to play. Thomas made the score a tad more respectable with a 3-pointer at the buzzer from just inside halfcourt.
Both teams were without a couple of key players. Millville guard Roberto Rivera missed the contest while he continues to nurse an ankle injury and Vineland big man Kenny Ives is still recovering from an illness.
The rematch between the county rivals comes on Jan. 22 in Millville at 4 p.m.