Coach Jason Kessler may have had the shortest halftime speech of all time when his Millville High School girls’ basketball team emerged from the locker room just 60 seconds after entering.
There wasn’t much to say because the Thunderbolts spoke volumes with their opening half of the season.
After shaking off the opening-night jitters in the first few minutes, Millville rattled off an impressive 31-2 run to close out the first half and paved the way for a convincing 67-42 victory at Vineland on Irv Gosman Court.
Sophomore guard Amanda Smith played like a poised veteran, dropping in a game-high 27 points, while senior star Ashli Weems did a little bit of everything Friday night, posting 18 points, 11 rebounds, 7 steals and one long pass to Smith, who converted the play into an easy bucket. Weems’ work also included dishing out water to the Millville reserves, and even the Bolt fans, in the fourth quarter.
“If Ashli keeps focused, keeps buying into our program, the sky is the limit for her,” Kessler said. “She’s off to a good start.”
Weems was certainly excited to get this season — one with huge expectations — started.
“This was a message to all the other teams out there, we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Weems said. “We just have to keep working hard, playing as a team and getting better.”
Millville is expected to get much better when junior transfer Lexi Bruno becomes eligible in 29 days. The guard, who blended in with the coaching staff with a blue sweater and khaki pants on Friday, will give the Bolts’ offense another great dimension to work with.
However, the Bolts had plenty of firepower against Vineland.
Millville pressured the Fighting Clan into numerous mistakes late in the first, resulting in seven straight buckets to end the quarter. Weems had four steals and scored eight of her 14 first-quarter points during the run.
“We wanted to utilize our speed to our advantage and use pressure to hopefully get some easy baskets (in the first half),” Kessler said.
Smith took over from there as she delivered 21 points over the next two quarters enabling Millville to salt the victory away early.
“It feels great to get the season started,” Smith said. “I feel like I’ve matured a lot. I know I’m ready to go. The whole team is ready, we’re looking to do some big things this year.”
Millville also got a huge contribution from junior Katrina Gaskins, who scored eight points and was in the center of the action for most of the game.
Vineland (0-1) started strong as it converted five field goals in the first four minutes, including four by Iesha Watson. However, the team sank just two more over the next two quarters.
The Fighting Clan played without their star guard Tanisha Russell, who recently transferred back to VHS from Sacred Heart. Coach Will Breese said she could play on Monday vs. Bridgeton.
Watson finished with a team-high 18 points, junior Cassandra Pagan added 11 and Sara Mazzeo had eight, including a pair of treys to finish a 22-6 fourth-quarter run.
The two rivals will meet again on Jan. 22 at Millville.