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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Hammonton holds on to edge St. Joe

Dan Russoman/THG. St. Joseph’s Will Spross (1) drives to the basket at Hammonton’s Bryce Nicholson (10) defends during last week’s game. Spross and the Wildcats fell short against the Blue Devils, losing a close game, 60-58.

HAMMONTON—Kenny Smith chose the perfect night to make history at Hammonton High School.

The junior guard became the latest Blue Devil to collect 1,000 points, reaching the milestone early in Hammonton’s thrilling 60-58 victory against crosstown rival St. Joseph Academy on January 12.

“It was definitely a fun one and just happy to get the win,” Smith said.

Smith came into the game one point shy of 1,000 and after missing on a 3-pointer on Hammonton’s first possession of the game, drilled one from beyond the arc a few minutes later to reach the milestone.

“I told everyone it was going to be a [3-pointer]. They [St. Joseph] really didn’t guard me on the first one, and I missed it, but I made the second one,” Smith said.

The game was halted for a few minutes to celebrate Smith’s accomplishment, but when it resumed, it quickly turned into one of the most exciting of the season.

The game was tight for the entire 32 minutes. The teams were tied, 9-9, at the end of the first quarter, but Smith took control in the second, scoring 16 of his game-high 30 points in the period.

“Second quarter, I just want to thank my teammates. They were rebounding, playing good defense,” Smith said.

While Smith was driving to the basket for layups and hitting shots from the perimeter, St. Joseph managed to keep the game close as Jason Umosella hit a key 3-pointer, Will Spross hit a pair of shots and Edwin Drummed scored twice in the paint as the Wildcats only trailed by two at halftime, 26-24.

It stayed close in the third quarter, as both Kenny Smith and Greg Smith hit 3-pointers for Hammonton and Paris Kinsey scored 10 points for St. Joe as the Blue Devils cling to a 40-39 lead heading into the final period.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Hammonton appeared to take control of the game with five-straight points from Ta’Vonne Barber, who had an and-one and a driving layup to give the Blue Devils a 51-45 lead.

Jake Edwards connected on a 3-pointer to stretch that lead to 54-47 with a little more than four minutes left in the game, and he converted a pair of free throws as Hammonton built its biggest lead of the game, 56-47.

The Blue Devils were in control, but the Wildcats fought back. The Wildcats upped their defensive intensity, denying Smith the ball and forcing several turnovers.

An Umosella 3-pointer closed the gap to 56-50, and steal led to a Kinsey layup that pulled St. Joe to within six at 58-52. Another steal, this one by Spross, resulted in a Drummed layup.

Greg Smith hit a shot to put Hammonton in front 60-56, but Kinsey scored off another Hammonton turnover with less than 30 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to just two points.

“I thought we were going pull away, but we had some careless turnovers at the end,” Hammonton coach Joe Martino said.

With the final seconds ticking off the clock, St. Joe missed a shot, but the rebound went out of bounds off a Hammonton player with less than two seconds left in the game. The Wildcats inbounded the ball to Spross and the sophomore guard’s last second attempt went off the back of the rim, allowing Hammonton to survive for the win.

“They played great, they really did. They played great for 32 minutes, so I give them a lot of credit. We missed a lot of shots early. They were in a triangle and two early and some of our guys were a little stiff. We didn’t get out in transition as much as we wanted to, because we didn’t defend well. And when you don’t defend well, you’re not going to transition well. That hurt us a little bit, because that’s what we do well. And on the defensive side, they made some shots, too. I give their younger guys credit, they’re pretty strong kids for sophomores. They got in there and really were able to maintain their balance and finish. I mean, they finished tonight, and it made it hard for us tonight to gain a lead because they always answered,” Martino said.

The loss was a crushing one for St. Joseph, whose players and coaches were extremely emotional in the postgame locker room.

“We thought with all the momentum at the end we could force overtime and have another tough one. It’s tough when kids are buying in, doing the right things and we come up short,” St. Joseph coach Paul Rodio said.

St. Joseph played well in the game and came up a shot short. The loss dropped the Wildcats record to 4-8, but they’ve played better than that mark indicates. Despite the solid performance, one in which the Wildcats showed grit and determination, Rodio was frustrated his team did not earn a win.

“We’re a little sick of the moral victories. I’m a little upset because we think it could’ve gone the other way tonight,” he said.

“As a coach that’s why I’m a little emotional now, because we gave it everything we had and it’s tough right now,” Rodio said.

While the game was a memorable one, the night belonged to Smith, who reached the 1,000-point mark and led all scorers with 30 points.

The junior celebrated with family and friends after the game, but gave was humble when discussing the milestone, giving credit to his teammates.

“I just wanted to get the job done. I’m happy we got the win. I’m just thankful for my teammates, my coaches; everybody who’s been with me throughout this journey. We got the job done today,” Smith said.


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