By GIUSEPPE UNGARO
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The Mainland Regional basketball team had every reason to feel confident about itself when leaving the court for halftime Thursday night in the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament semifinals.
The No. 3 seed Mustangs fought for everything with maximum effort against No. 1 and perennial state power St. Augustine Prep, which held a five-point edge at the break.
However, all the hard work and confidence gained seemed to disappear in a matter of minutes in the third quarter, as the Hermits turned up the intensity of its press — and turned a close game into a 69-35 rout at Absegami High School.
St. Augustine (23-2) will meet No. 2 Atlantic City (20-5) in the CAL Tournament final at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Stockton University. The Hermits won the previous two meetings with the Vikings this season. Atlantic City advanced to the title game with a win over No. 3 Wildwood Catholic.
Not only did the Hermits celebrate the win, they also celebrated guard Austin Kennedy reaching 1,000 career points. Kennedy, who finished with 13 points, reached the milestone early in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a good feeling, but I’m just glad I got it out of the way,” Kennedy said. “Now we are focused on the postseason, and we have Atlantic City on Saturday. That will be a great game, and we are excited and look forward to the postseason; the state playoffs.”
Mainland kept it close with St. Augustine throughout the first half, as Sahmir Jones scored eight of his team-high 13 points. The first half featured 10 lead changes, including six in the second quarter. However, Marlon Hargis’ bucket midway through the second quarter gave the Hermits a lead it wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the game.
But Mainland’s Brandon Savitch, who finished with eight points, nailed a 3-pointer to start the second half to make it a 24-22 game. It’s the closest the Mustangs got the rest of the game.
“I thought we had some nice momentum going, but I give all the credit to them,” said Savitch, who also helped hold Kennedy to 4-of-16 shooting. “They are a great team and they kept coming. They gave us pressure and got the best of us.”
St. Augustine’s full-court pressure finally got to the Mustangs, as the Hermits went on a 10-0 run in just 1 minute, 29 seconds to increase their lead to 12. After Savitch’s opening three-pointer, it took the Mustangs almost four more minutes to score another field goal, and they were outscored 25-8 in the third quarter.
With Kennedy struggling with his shot and big man Justyn Mutts held to just seven points, the Hermits showed its talented depth. Nick Amechi scored 10 of his team-high 14 in the third quarter, and teammate Walter Harvey ended the night with 10 points.
“Nick Amici is what happened. He knows his role, came off the bench, and did a great job, scoring, deflecting passes and doing everything,” Kennedy said. “It takes a lot of our team members to win a game. It’s more than a couple people, it takes a team-effort.”
“Our No. 1 goal was to maintain our composure no matter what, if we were up a few or down a few, and we lost composure when we got down a few,” Mainland coach Dan Williams said.
Contact Giuseppe Ungaro: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDgisepu
By GIUSEPPE UNGARO