• Dan Russoman

Loss at Egg Harbor Township spoils strong season for St. Joseph


St. Joseph’s Jordan Stafford. (THG/Dan Russoman. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

EGG HARBOR TWP.—In a game that felt like a championship matchup without the championship-game atmosphere, St. Joseph Academy’s boys basketball team saw its outstanding season come to a disappointing close with a 66-60 loss at Egg Harbor Twp. (EHT).


The game pitted two of the Cape Atlantic League’s best, as St. Joseph shared the West Division title this season with St. Augustine Prep, while EHT won the North Division crown.


In an ordinary year, last weekend’s matchup between the two teams could have been in the finals of the CAL tournament, but the few fans in attendance had to settle for a regular season finale for two of the best teams in the region.


Both teams entered the game with only one loss, and the contest lived up to its billing as one of the best of the season.


A 5-0 run to close the first quarter put St. Joseph ahead 14-9, but the Wildcats were unable to hold on to their lead, as EHT’s Isaiah Glenn, D.J. Germann and Ethan Dodd nailed 3-pointers to help the Eagles take a 28-27 lead into halftime.


St. Joe countered with baskets from Arnaldo Rodriguez, Marcus Pierce and Jordan Stafford, but EHT’s tenacious defense forced several turnovers that led to easy transition points throughout the period.


“We were sloppy. I’ve told our kids all season that we cannot make the little mistakes against good teams. I thought a lot of the breaks didn’t go our way today, but in the end we didn’t do the little things you need to do to win these kinds of games. They [EHT] rebounded better than us, they forced turnovers and they got to every loose ball. I’m always telling our kids, ‘You can’t take the little things for granted,’” St. Joseph coach Paul Rodio said.


Germann and Carlos Lopez fueled a huge third quarter for EHT that saw the Eagles stretch their lead to 11 points early in the fourth quarter.


St. Joe closed the game to four with scores from Pierce and Dom Thomas, and trailed by just two late in the game, but EHT finished strong, hitting key free throws down the stretch to send the Wildcats to just their second loss of the season.


“I’m disappointed because I wanted to send our seniors, Marcus [Pierce], Jordan Stafford and Dom Thomas out with a win. Those guys gave us everything they had this season. We knew that they [EHT] were a really talented team and they showed it. This one is hard to take,” Rodio said.


Playing his final high school game, Pierce led St. Joseph with 20 points. Thomas scored 13 and Rodriguez had 10.


Earlier in the week, St. Joseph topped Holy Spirit 64-54. Thomas scored nine of his 13 points in the first quarter as the Wildcats built a 19-4 lead. Pierce added eight points to power St. Joseph in the second quarter as the Wildcats led 26-20 at halftime.


The Wildcats maintained a double-digit lead though the third quarter, but in the fourth, the host Spartans rallied, as Jahmir Smith and Jamil Wilkins led a comeback that saw Spirit pull to within six points before Pierce hit a pair of layups to help St. Joe put the game away.


The win was St. Joe’s fourth straight, a streak that ended with the loss at EHT.


“It [the season-ending loss] hurts because that’s the last thing people are going to see this season. They’ll say, ‘St. Joe had a nice year, but they couldn’t close it out.’ But what they don’t see is a team that went 12-2, lost to maybe the two best teams in the league and played every game on the road this season. We went from maybe not even having a school a few months ago to playing all our games on the road and we went 12-2. I give these kids a lot of credit. They could have bailed out on us and they stayed and worked and dealt with a lot of adversity to go 12-2. That’s what people should remember about this team,” Rodio said.