Atlantic City still streaking in Cape-Atlantic League

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The Atlantic City High School varsity boys basketball team is going back to the Cape-Atlantic League Championship game at 2 p.m. Saturday Feb. 23 at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

The game will be broadcast on 97.3 ESPN.

The Vikings knocked off rival Holy Spirit Feb. 19 in the CAL semifinals, 47-35, at Hammonton High school, setting up a rematch with Middle Township, which was a 51-40 winner over St. Augustine Prep, also on Tuesday.

"We are excited about it," Atlantic City head coach Gene Allen said after the win on 97.3 ESPN Radio. "Middle is a great club. They are a fantastic program with a fantastic coach."

The Vikings haven't lost a Cape-Atlantic League game since Jan. 13, 2012, and will look to keep that streak alive when they head into the CAL title game on Saturday against the Panthers. Overall they are 43-3 in their last 46 games, with two of those losses coming to national power St. Anthony's.

"I try to stress to our kids the importance of each game and not to take anyone lightly," Allen said. "Our defensive presence has been very influential in a lot of these wins. We have been able to hold on to some leads with our defense."

Defense is a staple of Vikings basketball. Their man-to-man defensive pressure can be suffocating at times. It led to 25 Holy Spirit turnovers on Tuesday night, and it could lead Atlantic City to another CAL title on Saturday.

Not only do the Vikings play suffocating perimeter defense, but they are also very big and athletic on the inside. Guys like 6-foot-5 Dennis White, 6-8 Jah-leem Montague and 6-5 Gab’riel Chandler cause major match-up problems for Cape-Atlantic League teams.

"Gab’riel is a good shooter," said Montague. "So teams have to respect his shot and it opens up a lot of dunks for me. Then teams will try to double me and I can just throw it out to the high post for his shot or the other low block for an assist to White, so we all complement each other."

For Montague to even be out there and playing at such a high level is a shock to many South Jersey basketball fans. He suffered a knee injury during an early season scrimmage and has suffered from knee issues throughout his high school career, tearing ligaments in his knee between his sophomore and junior seasons.

The senior wears a protective brace around his right knee. Allen has limited Montague’s playing time because of the injury.

"It's all guts," said Allen. "He is a warrior, and I am proud of him. This is an adverse situation being his senior year, and I feel so much for him because he was having such a wonderful summer. The sky is the limit for him, and for this to occur, and for him to continue to play even though he might not be the same player he was, is just a tribute to him and how gutsy he is."

Lucky for Atlantic City fans, Montague is getting hot at the right time, averaging almost 15 points per game over the past three games, and his knee is feeling better and better every day.

"This is the best my knee has felt all season," Montague said.

Coach Allen has a special bond with his players, including Montague, and this Vikings team has formed a special friendship, one that is very important to their success.

"Coach Allen is a father figure and I couldn't ask for a better coach," said Montague. "My teammates are like brothers to me, we joke around all the time and I know they are there for me."

For Allen, who has guided two Vikings teams to state titles, he says it was a Feb. 12 win over Holy Spirit that made him a believer that this year’s team has a long run in them.

"I was really wondering if we had what it took to make another run," Allen said. "I left the Holy Spirit game feeling a lot better."

After this weekend’s CAL Championship contest, the Vikings will begin their quest for a second NJSIA state title as the top seed in a first-round game against Toms River South.

Cherry Hill Invitational

It was a big weekend at the Cherry Hill Invitational for both Atlantic City and Holy Spirit. Before they faced each other, they faced some of the top teams in South Jersey.

The Spartans were knocked off by Shawnee, 52-43. Sophomore Jordan Taylor and senior Paul Moore each had 13 points to lead the way. As for Atlantic City, the Vikings matched up with one of the top teams in South Jersey: Paulsboro, which features one of the area’s top scorers in Xavier Lundry. The Vikings cruised to a 58-48 victory, staking their claim as the top team in South Jersey as they enter the NJSIAA Group IV playoffs.

NJSIAA playoffs begin

Seven area basketball teams start the playoffs on Feb. 25.

Group IV (Begins Feb. 25)

(1) Atlantic City vs. (16) Toms River South

(4) Toms River North vs. (13) Absegami

(7) Triton vs. (10) Egg Harbor Township

Group III (Feb. 26)

(4) Delsea vs. (13) Oakcrest

Group II (Begins Feb. 25)

(7) Cinnaminson vs. (10) Cedar Creek

(2) Middle Township vs. (15) Pleasantville

Non-Public A (Begins Feb. 26)

(8) Holy Spirit vs. (9) Red Bank Catholic.

(3) St. Augustine vs. (14) St. John Vianney

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