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Hermits pick up solid win over Atlantic City on opening night of Battle By The Bay

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher ATLANTIC CITY — Mike Toner suited up for St. Augustine Prep’s varsity basketball team at last year’s Battle By The Bay as a junior, but didn’t see any playing time. On Friday night, his first chance to participate in the annual showcase at Atlantic City High School was a memorable one. The Northfield resident and guard for the Hermits hit a huge 3-pointer with less than 15 seconds left in the first half that helped give his team a 32-27 halftime lead, and he also got to witness junior point guard Sa’eed Nelson display his dazzling array of moves in front of a raucous crowd. That 3-pointer was the only shot of the night for Toner, but he played a key role in handling the ball against the Vikings’ relentless pressure. Nelson finished with 19 points and three assists, and Austin Kennedy had one of his best games of the season, scoring 20 points and adding four rebounds to help lead the Hermits to a 66-60 victory. “We knew it was going to be a tough environment and a tough crowd, but we pulled it out. Especially in the fourth quarter, we had a 12-point lead and tried to maintain that. They made a little run (at the end) but we did what we had to do to get the ‘W’,” Nelson said. “Mike Toner came in and hit a big three, Austin Kennedy played his best game all year. And that took a lot of pressure off of me.” St. Augustine Prep's Sa'eed Nelson drives to the hoop as Atlantic City's Jahmal Williams defends during Friday night's Battle By The Bay game at Atlantic City High School. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) St. Augustine Prep’s Sa’eed Nelson drives to the hoop as Atlantic City’s Jahmal Williams defends during Friday night’s Battle By The Bay game at Atlantic City High School. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) Late in the third quarter, Atlantic City (8-5) held a 41-39 lead, but St. Augustine (16-1) went on a 9-0 run to take the lead for good at 48-41. Ironically, the Hermits pulled off the decisive run as Nelson and 6-foot-6 forward Justyn Mutts were on the bench. Kennedy capped the run with a back-door layup, as St. Augustine got back to the type of fundamental basketball that has made it so successful under head coach Paul Rodio. “We ran our stuff better then than we had all night. We were hoping to survive,” Rodio said. “During a timeout, I told them to relax, we’re going to have to depend on you guys. You guys can play in this type of situation, it’s no big deal, just run your sets. They ran the best sets of the night during that stretch.” Rodio said he was particularly impressed with Kennedy’s effort. “He was just incredible. He’s a young kid, he’s just going to get better and better,” Rodio said. “We’ve said all year, obviously Sa’eed and Justyn are the nuts and bolts of what we have, but Nate Aldrich and Austin Kennedy have been just as good. They’ve been good in key situations. (Kennedy) is a sophomore and he’s going to make mistakes here and there, but he’s a tough kid, and he fits in and plays so well with Sa’eed.” Nelson may be one of the best point guards in the state, and he showed why against Atlantic City, which has one of the top defensive teams in the Cape-Atlantic League. At one point, in the first quarter, Nelson lost the handle on his dribble, regained control, then slashed to the rim and scored on a scoop layup. He followed that up with a steal and converted another acrobatic layup to give the Hermits an early 11-9 lead. “He’s a special player. You only get a couple of them around in a period of time. Being with him every day and just watching what he can do, that makes us a better team,” Toner said. “We knew coming in that they are a great team and their pressure (defense) is unbelievable. But we knew we had to handle it. We knew they would play well, we just had to battle.” Mike Toner, a senior from Northfield, nailed a big 3-pointer late in the second quarter that helped give St. Augustine a 5-point lead going into halftime. Mike Toner, a senior from Northfield, nailed a big 3-pointer late in the second quarter that helped give St. Augustine a 5-point lead going into halftime. Atlantic City refused to go away, however. The Vikings got a double-double from Leon Daniels, who just recently became eligible after transferring from Holy Spirit and having to sit out the required first 30 days of the season. Daniels finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Jamir Prevard led Atlantic City with 17 points, including three 3-pointers. Lamar Thomas nailed four 3-pointers and added 14 points, and Kevin Allen worked hard for 14 points down low. Aldrich had 10 points and 12 rebounds for St. Augustine. Rodio said it was a solid win for his team, not only because it was against a good team, but also because his players have had to face a string of tough opponents on the road. “Give (Atlantic City) credit. I mean, they are good defensively. They play hard,” Rodio said. “This group of kids, they won every game in the last 10 days on the road. At Bridgeton, at Holy Spirit, at Ocean City, at Middle, at Atlantic City.” Toner said experiencing the Battle By The Bay crowd from the floor for the first time was exhilarating. “It’s awesome. It’s a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We’re fortunate enough that we play in a lot of big games, but everyone around here is familiar with Atlantic City,” Toner said. “This is an experience of a lifetime. I’m just happy we got the win.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]

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