MILLVILLE—A season’s worth of inconsistent and oftentimes uninspired play caught up to the St. Joseph Academy boys basketball team at the worst possible time last week as the Wildcats lost to Mainland Regional 45-35 in a Cape Atlantic League (CAL) semifinal game at Millville High School.
The fourth-seeded Wildcats became the second team to be upset by the eighth-seeded Mustangs, who had opened the tournament with a victory on the road against the top seed Egg Harbor Twp. and went on to beat second-seeded St. Augustine Prep in the championship game last weekend, becoming the first eight seed to ever win the title.
St. Joe struggled from the start in last week’s semis, failing to get to the basket against Mainland’s matchup zone defense.
Sloppy play and poor decision-making have plagued the Wildcats all season, and that combination proved costly against an opportunistic Mainland squad that was much more patient and in control than St. Joseph.
“Our biggest fear is what happened tonight,” St. Joseph coach Paul Rodio said.
“This is what we are. We beat them [Mainland] twice in the regular season and it’s I don’t care what anybody says, it’s tough to beat someone three times in a season. But that’s no excuse. It was the matchup we wanted, the gift that we got. And we just didn’t come through,” Rodio said.
St. Joe was the more physical team in last week’s game. The Wildcats outrebounded the Mustangs 45-25 but were unable to take advantage of that stat. St. Joe pulled down 22 offensive rebounds but turned them into only 12 second chance points.
“It comes down to fundamentals. You’re not winning games if you’re not fundamentally sound. Fundamentals beat athleticism 100 times out of 100. Give credit to Mainland, they played well fundamentally. We shot 14-of-57 for the game. I know they play that zone and it’s tough, but we have to shoot the basketball better than that. We knew what was coming and we tried to push the pace. We get rebounds and then make bad shots; we’re knocking it around like it’s a volleyball. Then we send a pass into the stands. We were more physical but could not score,” Rodio said.
St. Joseph turnovers and poor shooting helped Mainland take a 13-8 lead in the first quarter. Ja’son Prevard and Jared Demara hit shots to help the Wildcats keep the game close, but the Mustangs led 25-19 at the break.
Mainland focused on controlling Prevard, St. Joseph’s leading scorer, and held the senior to 13 points.
In the third quarter, St. Joe went with more pressure defensively, opening the second half with an 8-2 run that tied the game at 27.
Mainland battled back, and early in the fourth quarter, Stephen Ordille’s drive put the Mustangs ahead 34-30. Jahmeer Cartagena’s driving layup pulled St. Joe to within two, but that was as close as the Wildcats would get, as a pair of free throws from Cohen Cook and a basket from Jamie Tyson put Mainland in control, 42-34, with 1:13 left in the game.
The final horn set off a massive celebration at halfcourt for the Mustangs while St. Joe’s players quietly walked to their bench.
“It’s very disappointing. A total missed opportunity. But you cannot win and be a champion if you only score 30 points,” Rodio said.
St. Joseph’s coach was left frustrated and looking for answers following the latest poor performance by his team.
“I don’t know. We have the ability to win, but at this point [in the season], we are what we are, and it’s just not good enough. Right now we are a very, very average basketball team that has had some nice wins but just can’t get it done when it matters,” Rodio said.
St. Joe was able to bounce back and win its regular season finale late last week, defeating Camden Academy Charter 91-43. Prevard scored 22 points in the win, while Aidan Hopson added 11.
The Wildcats open the South Jersey Non-Public B playoffs on March 4 when they host the winner of Holy Cross Academy and Calvary Christian.