Crusaders vault ahead in CAL United

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NORTH WILDWOOD – Talk about making a statement.

The Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team avenged its only loss of the season and took control of the Cape-Atlantic United Conference in the process Tuesday night.

The Crusaders, who lost to Sacred Heart on opening night for their lone defeat of the season to date, ran out to a 16-4 lead after one period and led 34-12 at the half in what turned out to be a dominating 58-32 victory over the Lions.

Wildwood Catholic improved to 12-1 overall, 7-1 in United Conference games, while Sacred Heart dropped to 8-7, 7-2.

Sacred Heart had beaten the Crusaders 60-54 on opening night.

“We’re a completely different team than we were back on Dec. 14,” Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese said in an interview on following the game. “The kids have worked very hard the last 40 days or so and they’ve improved tremendously. The biggest improvement has been on the defensive end of the floor. We’re setting the tone early in games with our defensive pressure and defensive presence and that’s benefitted us by giving us the opportunity to get a lead early in games and play from there.”

Eddie McWade, completely healthy for this game against Sacred Heart, dominated in the paint at both ends of the floor for the Crusaders. He made eight field goals and shot 8 for 10 from the foul line for a game-high 25 points. McWade managed to score in double figures the first time the teams played but was still nowhere near 100 percent after coming off a severe ankle sprain that had sidelined him for nearly two weeks in the preseason.

“It’s very special,” McWade said of Tuesday’s win on “This is what we’ve been looking forward to all season, to play them again, and to win like this is great.”

Clinton Freeman added 12 points and seven rebounds for the Crusaders.

Wildwood Catholic limited Sacred Heart’s Mike Holloway, one of the top young players in the CAL who does much of his work in the paint, to only six points. McWade drew the assignment of guarding Holloway for most of the game.

“I was just fronting him and everyone else was playing good help-side (defense) behind me to take away the lob,” McWade said.

Wildwood Catholic is maturing perhaps a year ahead of time. The Crusaders’ starting lineup features four juniors and a sophomore. But while the team could be among South Jersey’s best next season, that doesn’t mean Wildwood Catholic isn’t making waves throughout the region already. In addition to avenging the loss to Sacred Heart, Wildwood Catholic has also earned signature victories over Rancocas Valley, Penns Grove Central Bucks East (Pa.) and Wildwood.

“I think this is a pretty special team right now,” DeWeese said. “They’ve accomplished a lot already, more than I thought they’d be able to accomplish at this point. They’ve grown and they’ve gotten more confidence. Individually, each of them has improved. Everyone’s gotten better, and that’s why we’re where we are right now. They’ve worked hard to get better and they’re playing as a team. And I can’t emphasize enough what they’re doing on the defensive end of the floor.”

Wildwood Catholic faces another conference opponent tonight (Thursday, Jan. 24) in Cape May Tech. The Crusaders are then scheduled to participate in the Jeff Coney Classic showcase event Saturday at Rancocas Valley High School, where they’ll face Bishop Eustace.

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