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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

HHS boys fall in CAL quarterfinals


THG/Dan Russoman. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940. Hammonton’s Kenny Smith (3) drives past ACIT’s Desi Stroud (1) and Zahir Davis-Roberts (35) late in last week’s Cape Atlantic League playoff game.

RICHLAND—A late first half surge broke open a close game, powering top-seeded St. Augustine Prep to a 71-46 win against ninth-seeded Hammonton in a Cape Atlantic League boys basketball quarterfinal playoff game last weekend.


With St. Augustine leading late in the second quarter, Kenny Smith sank three free throws to cut the Hermits lead to 25-22 with a little more than two minutes remaining in the half.


The foul shots capped a strong run by the Blue Devils, who had trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half.


St. Augustine Coach Paul Rodio called a timeout, and in the final minutes of the half, the Hermits went on an 8-0 run that pushed their lead to 11 at the half and sparked more strong play in the final two quarters that gave the Prep the win.


“We had it close for a while in the second quarter, but they’re just so good. They [St. Augustine] are very deep and we just couldn’t keep pace with them,” Hammonton coach Joe Martino said.


St. Augustine’s ball movement created open looks from the perimeter and along the baseline, allowing the Hermits to close out the win.


“We couldn’t really handle them inside and when they started scoring there, it opened a lot up for them,” Martino said.


Smith finished the game with 30 points, including all of Hammonton’s scoring in the third quarter when he tallied 16.


“Kenny’s gotten it done for us all season. But he can only do so much. We needed someone else to score some today and the shots just didn’t fall for us,” Martino said.


The loss ended a seven-game winning streak for Hammonton and came a few days after the Blue Devils pulled out a 42-41 win in the opening round of the tournament at Atlantic County Institute of Technology (ACIT).


Taking on a solid Red Hawks team in front of a raucous crowd, the Blue Devils let a 10-point halftime lead get away before rallying for a come-from-behind win in the fourth quarter.


Nic Johnson hit a pair of 3-pointers and Smith, Tyler Lowe and Azzir Smith-Bey added shots from beyond the arc as Hammonton built a 19-10 first-quarter lead.


That lead was 10 at the half, but in the third quarter, ACIT rallied, taking a 32-30 lead with a 14-2 run powered by baskets from Desi Stroud and Jayden Lopez.


The teams traded the lead a few times in the fourth quarter and with 2:32 remaining, Lowe stepped to the line for a pair of free throws.


His first was good and tied the game 37-37. The second missed, but Lowe sprinted down the lane and he, teammate Joey Gillen and an ACIT player all jumped for the rebound which appeared to deflect off Lowe’s hand and into the basket to give the Blue Devils a 39-37 lead.


“I knew the shot was off, so I went right to the basket, trying to get a tip,” Lowe said.


“I think the ACIT kid tipped it and I pushed his hand into the ball. It might have gone off his hand. All I know is it counts on the stat sheet,” Lowe said.


The shot sparked Hammonton to the win, although ACIT made it tough, hitting shots down the stretch while the Blue Devils struggled to seal the game at the foul line. Hammonton made just 6-of-16 free throws in the fourth quarter.


Smith sank one and Smith-Bey converted a pair in the last minute to clinch the victory.


“We played good defense and that’s what matters. Our shots didn’t fall, so we had to lock in on defense,” Smith said.


Both teams were fueled by the crowd which filled the gym and made a lot of noise, adding to the postseason atmosphere.


“I love atmospheres like that. The fans were into the game and it got us going,” Smith said.


The sophomore guard finished with 12 points. Lowe added 12 and Johnson had 10.


The win was the seventh-straight for Hammonton, which began the week by beating Vineland and Toms River North.


The game against Vineland was close for a quarter, but Hammonton took control with a 20-3 second-period run and outscored the Fighting Clan 51-12 in the final three quarters.


Smith led the Blue Devils with 16 points.


Playing at Toms River North, one of the top teams in the Shore Conference, Hammonton rallied in the fourth quarter to pull out a 70-65 win.


The Devils trailed 50-46 heading into the final period then outscored Toms River North 24-15 in the last eight minutes.


Smith tallied a career-high 37 points in the win, while Smith-Bey added 12.


The Blue Devils will learn their seed in the South Jersey Group 3 playoffs this week. That tournament begins in February 20.


Until then, Hammonton is idle, although the Blue Devils were hoping to add a game or two this week.


“We’d like to maybe add a game before the playoffs to keep us sharp. Hopefully, we can find someone to play and not have to wait more than a week for a game,” Martino said.


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