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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Local teams tip off new season

St. Joe drops two games

OCEAN CITY—A second lopsided loss in as many games left the St. Joseph Academy boys basketball team searching for answers last weekend.

Taking on Atlantic City at the Ocean City PBA Tipoff Classic on Dec. 16, the Wildcats were handed a 72-52 loss.

Fresh off a similar 68-48 defeat in their season opener at Egg Harbor Twp. on Dec. 14, Wildcats coach Paul Rodio was left frustrated and confused by his team’s poor early-season performance.

“I know we’re better than this. There’s a lot of things that have factored into it. I deep down think were better than we’ve played,” Rodio said after the loss to Atlantic City.

St. Joe has been inconsistent at both ends of the floor. A solid defensive effort has been followed by easy baskets by opponents on the next possession. Offensively, then the Wildcats have been patient, they’ve scored easily, moving the ball well to work a good shot.

When they rush, they’ve missed from the perimeter, leading to transition points the other way.

“I don’t think we’re that far off we make too many mental errors to overcome, we make the same mistakes over and over. We haven’t started well and when we pass is we’re not shot ready. Missed shots, long rebounds, they’re [opponents] laying it [in transition] on the other end,” Rodio said.

Against Atlantic City, the Wildcats fell behind early 11-3 but fought back to close the gap to 14-9 to end the first quarter.

That late play carried into the second period, when Will Spross scored six points and Paris Kinsey added four to help the Wildcats keep the game within reach at halftime.

Atlantic City pulled away in the third quarter, using a 9-2 run to take control and put the game away.

Spross finished with 20 points in the loss and Kinsey added 16.

St. Joe opened the season on Dec. 14 at Egg Harbor Twp., losing 68-48.

In that game, the host Eagles hit eight 3-pointers and their accuracy from the perimeter kept St. Joe playing catchup all night.

Spross led the Wildcats with 13 points, Joey Umosella added 12 and Edwin Drummed had 12.

The slow start is similar to last season, when the Wildcats started 0-3.

“Last year we started 0-3 and we finished fine, almost made the South Jersey finals. Those guys kept the faith and bought in these guys have to want to do that,” Rodio said.

The Wildcats are down, but their coach feels a turnaround could come soon.

“I see spurts where we play really well. It’s not easy, I think they’re not as bad as what it looks. We have to keep it together and do the little things,” Rodio said.

St. Joe played at Millville earlier this week, but that game ended too late for this edition. On Dec. 20, the Wildcats host Ocean City at 7:30 p.m. at Hammonton Middle School.

HHS holds on for a win

OCEAN CITY—Facing a tenacious Lower Cape May team in its season-opener, Hammonton High School’s boys basketball team escaped with a 53-49 victory in the Ocean City PBA Tipoff Classic on Dec. 16.

“Tough way to start the season,” Hammonton coach Joe Martino said.

“The game went pretty much the way we expected it to. We know they run and jump and they probably do it better than

anybody in our league. So, they’re a tough team to play on opening day,” Martino said.

The game was close throughout, with the teams trading runs deep into the fourth quarter.

Hammonton led by as many as 11 points in the second half, but Lower Cape May’s ball pressure in the fourth quarter allowed the Tigers to close the gap to two late in the game before the Blue Devils hit some key free throws to seal the win.

“They executed on defense sometimes by turning us over in some situations, but we overcame. I thought we did move the ball at times when we got guys on the perimeter space, and we attacked the basket when we had to attack it. All in all, we made a couple of free throws at the end and we’re happy to come out of here with a win,” Martino said.

Baskets by Jake Smith and Azzir Smith-Bey helped Hammonton break a 12-12 first quarter tie and take a 25-21 lead into halftime.

Smith-Bey added five more in the third quarter to help maintain a slim lead for the Blue Devils, but in the fourth quarter, Lower began pressuring the ball, forcing turnovers and rushed shots from Hammonton that let the Tigers climb back into the game.

Two 3-pointers from Jake Edwards kept Hammonton in front and down the stretch he and Bryce Nicholson each hit key free throws to close out the win.

Smith-Bey finished with 20 points in the win. The senior forward transferred to Hammonton last season and turned in perhaps his best game as a Blue Devil last weekend.

“He has to score for us. We said coming into the season that he has to score around 14 to 20 points a game every night,” Martino said.

Edwards added 11 and Brown had nine for Hammonton on a day when the Blue Devils

leading scorer from a season ago, Kenny Smith, was held in check by Lower Cape May.

“Kenny will get his points. It’s a tough game for him to open up with because he’s the focus of their run and jump, meaning they’re going to double him more times than not and full court pressure him,” Martino said.

Martino was happy to see other players step up to fill the void offensively, especially in a game where he seldom went to the bench.

“Moving forward we’ll start using more of the bench. That opponent [Lower Cape May], really altered our rotation. And we had five timeouts in the second half, so I used that as a sub to get some guys a quick rest,” Martino said.

Earlier this week, Hammonton hosted Mainland but that game ended too late for this edition. On Dec. 20, the Blue Devils visit Holy Spirit at 6:30 p.m.


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