Five CAL teams move into NJSIAA’s 2nd week

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You might have wondered if Atlantic City’s Gene Allen was concerned when his Vikings fell behind by 12 points to Lenape in the first few minutes of Monday night’s South Jersey final. You’d never have been able to tell by his body language. After all, the intense coach starts pacing and hollering in the locker room.

But Atlantic City rallied and won its second straight South Jersey Group IV championship. It was Allen’s fifth South Jersey title, breaking a tie for sixth place all-time among CAL coaches with Mike Malley and Jim Mogan. Paul Rodio (12), Frank McAlarnen (10), Tom Feraco (9), Ken Leary (8) and Bernie McCracken (7) are the top five.

The Vikings finished 14-0 on their home court and go into Wednesday’s state semifinal against East Brunswick (6 p.m. at Egg Harbor Township High School) with a 16-game win streak.

Ocean City also won a championship on Monday, taking the South Jersey Group 3 title over Timber Creek. It was Paul Baruffi’s fourth title, tying him for third among all-time CAL coaches with Joe Fussner and Steve Ottenberg. The top two are Dave Troiano (6) and Greg Goodwin (5). Troiano, South Jersey’s all-time career leader in girls basketball wins, actually has eight championships but two came after Wildwood left the CAL.

Ocean City, by the way, was also 14-0 at home this season. And the Raiders are 20-1 in their Dixie Howell Gymnasium in NJSIAA Tournament games since the gym opened in 2004-05.

John Leahy’s Middle Township team was scheduled to play Willingboro on Tuesday in a game too late to report here. The defending champion Panthers were underdogs entering the game, despite the fact that they beat Willingboro back in December during the Ocean City PBA Tipoff Weekend.

The Sacred Heart girls, who came within a Gina Lewis jump shot of winning the CAL Tournament with three straight upsets, almost pulled off a big one on Monday. The Lions took defending state champion Gill St. Bernard’s, the No. 4 ranked team in the entire state, into overtime before losing. It was a tough loss but a great effort by Sacred Heart.

Also advancing to the second week of the state tournament was Wildwood Catholic’s boys team. The Crusaders traveled to play Roselle Catholic in an 8 p.m. game on Monday night and lost. The team is probably getting back home around the time you read this. The reason they played so late was that the Roselle Catholic girls played first.

For the Wildwood Catholic team, though, this entire season might be considered a warm-up. Dave DeWeese has his entire rotation back next season, which figures to be a very good one for the Crusaders.

Last week, the two teams that battled all season before sharing the boys championship of the National Conference both had their seasons end. But in completely different fashion.

Middle Township battled a talented Medford Tech all night, finally catching them in the fourth quarter. The Panthers have excelled in late game situations all season but this time the big play wasn’t there and they lost. Medford Tech is a team that is living proof of the advantages of a tough schedule. They were pressed to a 19-point loss by Atlantic City in December but have since faced Montgomery, Willingboro, Paterson Kennedy, Paul VI, Rancocas Valley and St. Anthony. They got better and went on to easily defeat Sterling on Monday for the South Jersey title.

It was a tough way for careers to end at Middle for a group of guys that have accomplished so much.

The next night, St. Augustine, the team Middle battled all season, ran into an icon in Metuchen – a seven-foot sophomore icon in the person of Karl Towns. He led St. Joseph to an 80-39 win over the Prep in Coach Paul Rodio’s 1,000th game as head coach.

Towns is something to see. He has great, quick moves around the basket and a deadly three-point shot. And his wing span makes it very difficult to get off a shot in the lane that isn’t just batted away. He has committed to Kentucky in 2014-15 but, based on Saturday night, he could play for the Wildcats right now.

The Non-Public state finals are Saturday at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River. The girls finals are Sunday at Pine Belt and the boys finals at Rutgers on Sunday. The Tournament of Champions begins on Tuesday for girls and Wednesday for boys, both in Toms River.

Get out to a game. There are plenty of great ones left.        

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