Long before she ever stepped into Sacred Heart High School as a student, Mandy Buirch was a part of the girls’ basketball program.
She attended her first Sacred Heart summer basketball camp as a fourth grader and, in later years, would fire up thousands of shots during Lions’ practices when her father was an assistant coach for the team.
Back then, Buirch kept a watchful eye on how the older girls, specifically players like Kristen Bowen, Lauren Howell and Ashley Durham, went about their craft and learned two things that helped define the high school program.
“Working hard and winning,” she said.
Buirch has carried those traditions through a scholastic career that is entering its final stage.
“It definitely has gone fast,” said Buirch, who has been a part of 86 victories entering Wednesday’s CAL semifinal game against Ocean City. “Nothing has changed though since I first remember coming here. It’s still Sacred Heart basketball.”
Coach Steve DiPatri isn’t surprised at all that the little girl from elementary school grew into one of the key players for the Lions during her high school days.
“Mandy is a very fundamentally sound basketball player,” he said. “Along with her skills, she does all the little things that a coach needs a player to do, like fighting through screens, and the big things too, like carrying on the program’s message to the younger players.”
Buirch’s game centers around her steady outside shot and her air-tight defense. She also remains one of the best, and most clutch, foul shooters in the Cape-Atlantic League.
To take better advantage of that last skill, Buirch has made a commitment to driving to the basket and drawing contact
“That’s a part of my game that I really worked on,” said Buirch, who has accumulated 845 points in her career.
Buirch has also taken on a leadership role, which became even more important as the team lost several pivotal players to transfers in the previous months.
“She’s one of the key players on this team, but she’s also one of the good leaders too,” junior center Kennedy Johnson said.
Buena coach Misty Russo raved about her newest player in the preseason when Holy Spirit transfer Alaina Seyler suited up for the Chiefs.
The compliments haven’t disappeared either over the winter as the junior guard has gone from the team’s first player off the bench to starter.
“It’s very hard to take her off the floor,” Russo said. “Her fundamentals are excellent, she’s been consistent in every area and she gives us that boost of energy whenever she’s out there.”
Seyler has also developed into a solid scoring option too. The guard has scored in all but one game this season and has posted double-digits in her last two games, including a career-high 14 points against Delsea.
Dribbling around the area
Millville coach Jason Kessler said Lexi Bruno’s hip injury is getting better with rest. The junior guard was visibly in pain during Friday’s Cape-Atlantic League quarterfinal loss to Holy Spirit. Kessler said Bruno is getting as much rest as possible and she may not play in the CAL consolation game.
Bridgeton’s Jovan Childers became the fourth girl in school history to surpass the 1,000-career point mark on Saturday. The senior guard knocked down a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter for the milestone basket. She finished with 18 points, including 11 in the fourth, as the Bulldogs rallied for a home win against Woodbury.
Delsea was hoping to see history on Saturday when it attended the Rutgers-UConn women’s game as Scarlet Knight coach C. Vivian Stringer went for her 900th win. UConn, the No. 3 team in the nation, spoiled the party with a 65-45 win. It was far from a lost trip for the Crusaders though as the team notched a thrilling 44-42 win at Kinnelon earlier that morning.
Bridgeton will host a Line Dance Night fundraiser tonight in the school’s gymnasium from 6-8 p.m. The cost is $10 per person and $5 for students, and all proceeds go to the Bridgeton girls’ basketball team.
Games to Watch
Millville at Toms River South, Monday, 6:30 p.m. — The Thunderbolts travel to Ocean County to open up the Group IV South playoffs. The Indians, who are 16-7 going into tonight’s action, will present a tough challenge for Millville.
Buena at Collingswood, Monday, 6 p.m. — Don’t expect a lot of points to be scored in this Group II South first-round game. Both teams work at a slower pace and buckets will be at a premium.
Bridgeton at Cinnaminson, Monday, 5 p.m. — The Bulldogs enter the Group II South postseason on a roll, but a difficult assignment with the Pirates, of the Burlington County League, awaits.
Pinelands at Delsea, Tuesday, 5 p.m. — The Crusaders were a Group III South finalist last season and open this year’s tournament with a home game.
OLMA at Timothy Christian, Tuesday, 6 p.m. — The Villagers will trade a long trip to Piscataway for a victory in the opening round of the Non-Pubic B tournament and a likely matchup against Sacred Heart in the following round.
Tom’s Super Six*
1. Sacred Heart (18-6) — The Lions have won 20 or more games in six straight season; is No. 7 on the way?
2. Millville (15-7) — The Thunderbolts bowed out of their first-ever CAL tournament with a 28-point loss to Holy Spirit..
3. Delsea (12-12) — The Crusaders rattled off six straight wins before Tuesday’s defeat against Kingsway, a team they had beat earlier in the season.
4. Buena (11-12) — The flu bug is making its way around the team, five losses in its last seven games aren’t making the Chiefs feel any better either.
5. OLMA (11-12) — The Villagers have lost three straight and four of their last five to dip below .500 for the first time in February.
6. Bridgeton (10-14) — Quick, name the area’s hottest team? That’s right, it’s the Bulldogs, winners of five straight — the best current streak in the area..