GLOUCESTER – Azana Baines is moving ever closer to the completion of her highly successful three-year career at Gloucester Catholic High School.
As her senior season winds down in the last couple of weeks, Baines has met virtually all of the expectations held for her by coach Lisa Gadeka.
The veteran mentor can barely contain her excitement when talking about Baines, a swing player who is generally regarded among the best in South Jersey and perhaps even the state.
“I think we have good team chemistry and I think we have good leadership,” said Gadeka after her team raised its record to 18-3 Tuesday with 66-39 Tri-County Conference win over Wildwood.
“It certainly helps having a player like Azana, who is incredibly talented and very unselfish, on the floor,” the coach added. “She’s just a great player and a great kid.”
Baines scored 14 points, but as usual, she contributed all over the floor as a passer, rebounder and defender.
She was put in charge of defending Wildwood’s Maddie McCracken – one of the region’s top offensive players – and she held her to 18 points, nine of them coming in a meaningless fourth quarter.
“They just told us she was their best player,” Baines said. “They wanted me to stop her.”
A transfer from Highland after her freshman season, Baines has been the central figure in virtually all the Rams have been able to accomplish in the last three years.
She leads with a quiet confidence that has had a positive effect on her teammates from the start.
“She’s very unassuming, very stoic,” said Gadeka. “I think sometimes there is a misconception that she doesn’t play with passion, but that’s the total opposite. That kid wants to win, and she’s learning to play hard all the time.”
One of the things that’s striking about Baines is, that for a star caliber player, she has no problem with getting her teammates involved in the game.
She does not need to score to be effective.
“When we came in together as sophomores I never saw a better girl player than her,” said fellow senior Emily Leonhardt, who led the Rams with 15 points – all coming on 3-point goals. “Just the ambition she had to play the game. She was just so into it. When she drives it’s just incredible how she finishes her shots.”
For her part, Baines believes the team is just starting to find its footing, which is a good thing considering the tournament challenges that lie ahead in a tough Non-Public B bracket.
“I feel like we’ve gotten better since the beginning of the year,” she said. “In the beginning we had a tough couple of games. We weren’t really used to each other, but now we know everybody’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s getting easier for us now. We’re trusting each other more.”
On Tuesday Baines was only one of three players who hit for double figures in scoring.
Lynzie Eggers added 13 points, including three 3-point goals as the Rams converted nine 3-point goals for the game. According to Leohardt, the team’s perimeter game is one of the key’s to the Rams’ success.
“When me and Lynzie are shooting like that it opens the floor for everybody,” she said. “When we’re hitting, we can look inside for Azana and Jada Williams (nine points), because they won’t be doubling them.”
Baines added two 3-point goals of her both coming in the first half when the Rams opened a commanding 33-18 lead.
Leonhardt scored three of her 3-point goals in the third quarter when a 22-5 run for the Rams put the game well out of reach.
Jenna Hans added 10 points for the Crusaders, who fell to 17-5.
Gloucester Catholic 66, Wildwood 39
Wildwood 9 9 5 18 -39
Gloucester Catholic 17 16 22 11 -66
Wild: Maddie McCracken 18, Jenna Hans 10, Imene Fathi 6, Lea Benchas 2, Torance Gallo 3.
GC: Azana Baines 14, Jada Williams 9, Mycala Carney 7, Lynzine Eggers 13, Angelina Berrara 2, Kate Cordery 2, Natalie Berara 2, Emily Leonhardt 15.