Lexi Bruno has the talent to quickly fill up a stat sheet, but the Millville High School girls’ basketball team hopes that she helps put a big check mark in one statistic box on a nightly basis — the win column.
She’s 1-for-1 in that department so far.
After a slow start in her program debut, the junior point guard settled in nicely, posting a game-high 17 points and five steals, and led the Thunderbolts to a 52-40 victory at Absegami Tuesday night in a Cape-Atlantic League American Conference game.
Millville has won three straight for just the second time in the last 10 years and owns four victories in its last five games to improve to 5-5.
Waiting for game No. 1 was the toughest part for No. 2. Bruno, who had to sit out the first 30 days of the season per NJSIAA transfer rules after leaving Sacred Heart, was certainly anxious to take the floor for the first time in orange-and-blue.
“It was tough sitting on the bench all that time, I really wanted to be out there for so long and help my teammates,” Bruno said. “I’m glad it finally got here.”
So was the rest of the team, including the coaching staff, who have been anxiously awaiting Bruno’s debut for quite some time.
“This was obviously a date that was marked down on our calendar for a long time,” Millville coach Jason Kessler said. “(Bruno) adds another big dimension to this team and everyone was excited to see what we would look like in a game with her on the floor.”
It didn’t take long for Bruno to make her presence felt. She recorded her first steal on Absegami’s opening possession.
Bruno’s shot wasn’t very sharp in the first half as she misfired on her first four attempts from the field, including her initial shot that just rimmed out. Her first points came on a 3-point basket midway through the second quarter.
“I was a little bit rusty at first,” Bruno said. “I was a little bit nervous too, it being my first game and everything.”
However, the rest of Bruno’s game was spot on. Her tenacity on defense was high as she recorded five deflections to go along with her five steals and she drew a charging call too. On offense, she unleashed a killer crossover dribble and was deadly from the foul line, going 8-for-8, to go along with three rebounds and three assists.
After Millville took a 18-17 lead into halftime, the Thunderbolts took command of the game in the third quarter. Bruno found herself in the center of the action as she delivered eight points, including two triples, during a 19-10 run.
“I was very happy with the entire team’s performance,” Kessler said. “We shot pretty cold (from the field) early on, but we kept our composure as a group and played extremely well down the stretch.
As expected, Bruno’s attendance on the floor opened up other options in the Millville offense.
Senior center Ashli Weems had more room to roam in the paint and she responded with 12 points. Sophomore guard Amanda Smith tallied 11 points, despite absorbing a painful bruised thigh injury in the second quarter. Smith put the finishing touches on the third-quarter spurt with a long 3-point basket.
“We were all excited for this game,” Weems said. “We knew things would be better with Lexi in the lineup and it definitely was.”
Weems, Smith and Bruno combined for 9-of-12 foul shots in the fourth quarter to seal the victory — the first of what could be many with their new guard in the lineup.