Atlantic City knocks off Holy Spirit for CAL American crown

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ABSECON – In a game between two evenly matched and familiar opponents, the Atlantic City High School boys basketball team turned up the intensity just in time to capture a Cape-Atlantic League American Conference championship.

The Vikings held off their close rival Holy Spirit, 54-47, in a wild and wooly CAL regular-season finale Tuesday night, Feb. 12 at Holy Spirit High School.

Dayshawn Reynolds capped the victory with two slam dunks in the last 40 seconds, one coming off a Holy Spirit turnover, the other off an errant 3-point shot attempt.

“We knew that they would play us hard, they always do,” Atlantic City coach Gene Allen said. “Even when we were up 10, I was telling our guys that the game was far from over. And sure enough, they mounted a run.”

Ga’briel Chandler led Atlantic City with 16 points, including a big baseline jumper that gave the Vikings a six-point cushion with five minutes to play.

Atlantic City led by eight points after Jah-leem Montague grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled on the put-back, converting a 3-point play with 4:16 left in the game.

But Holy Spirit roared back with a 9-2 run, including a bucket by John Middleton off a Paul Moore steal, and three straight points by Leon Daniels to draw within three with 1:03 to play.

The Vikings knew that Moore would be handling the ball in that final minute, and they knew he would be looking to distribute it to a teammate near the basket. Moore tried an ill-advised pass that was knocked away for a turnover, setting up Reynolds for the first of his game-clinching dunks.

The Spartans missed five of their seven foul shots in the final quarter, squandering several chances to draw closer in the last moments of the game.

Moore said the game was similar to an earlier meeting between the teams, a three-point Atlantic City win that also came right down to the wire.

“We had to make a play at the end, and we failed to do that,” said Moore, who led the Spartans with 16 points. “We had opportunities at the free-throw line to press the lead, and we didn’t do that. We just have to make plays at the end. Unfortunately we couldn’t do that tonight.”

Middleton added 11 points for Holy Spirit, and Junior Saintel patrolled the interior with five blocked shots.

“We needed a game like that,” Allen said, “because we’ve had some lopsided games, and I was excited to see how we would play in a hostile environment. And we passed the test.”

Allen had been unhappy with his team’s play of late, despite a last-second victory over St. Augustine Prep at last weekend’s Battle by the Bay.

“I thought we executed well in the half-court offense tonight, and our intensity has picked back up again,” he said. “We seem to understand that we’re in ‘one-and-done’ time, and we have to turn it on.”

With their eighth straight win, the Vikings finished unbeaten in the conference at 12-0, 19-1 overall, and clinched the top seed in the upcoming CAL playoff tournament. They will host Egg Harbor Township in the first round of the tournament on Friday, Feb. 15.

Holy Spirit (10-2, 14-8) is the No. 5 seed and will go on the road Friday against United Conference co-champion Wildwood Catholic. But the Spartans fully expect to see their neighborhood rival again in the postseason: if both teams win their first-round games, Atlantic City and Holy Spirit would meet again in the semifinal round on Feb. 18 at Hammonton High School.

“I still feel like we’re one of the best teams around,” Moore said. “We’ve had our little losing streak (earlier in the season), but over time we’ve grown as a team. I believe we’ll see (Atlantic City) again in the CAL (playoffs).”

 


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