By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
It’s nearly that time of year again, one of the highlights of the South Jersey high school basketball calendar — the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament. The tournament has a different structure this year, as instead of the top eight teams in the league any CAL team, boys or girls, could opt in. With this new format, a certain number of teams would compete in a “play-in” round to get down to what could be called the “Sweet 16.” Every game is single elimination until a champion is crowned on Feb. 18.
Here’s a quick look at the seeds for both the boys and girls tournaments and what each team must do in order to make it through the Round of 16.
Play-in Games (on Tuesday): (17) Oakcrest at (16) Wildwood Catholic; (21) Cape May Tech at (12) Pleasantville; (20) Vineland at (13) Middle Township; (19) Buena Regional at (14) Holy Spirit; (18) Bridgeton at (15) Cedar Creek.
Oakcrest/Wildwood Catholic winner at (1) St. Augustine Prep: The Hermits should get out of this round with little trouble. They already beat Wildwood Catholic by 19 earlier this year. They need to establish that they are the team to beat early on and not give either of these teams hope for an upset.
(9) Hammonton at (8) Atlantic Tech: Really intriguing matchup here. Hammonton has played a tough schedule and Atlantic Tech has been playing some very good basketball since the start of January. Hammonton has to get some scoring from somebody other than star guard Kenny Smith if the Blue Devils want to make a run in this tournament. The RedHawks have five seniors in the starting lineup and they just have to keep doing what they’ve been doing — playing solid defense, hitting free throws and not turning the ball over.
Cape May Tech/Pleasantville winner at (5) Millville: A tough road trip for either of the play-in teams. Millville has to score more than it has recently to avoid an upset. The T-Bolts have been held to less than 55 points in three of their last four games.
Vineland/Middle Township winner at (4) Lower Cape May: If Middle wins the opener, this could be one of the more intriguing Sweet 16 matchups. Lower star Archie Lawler has been out but the Caper Tigers have still won five of their last seven. They need to get scoring output from upperclassmen such as Mackey Bonner and Jared Bey to move on.
Buena/Holy Spirit winner at (3) Egg Harbor Township: The Eagles know not to take anyone for granted, as they were bounced by No. 8 Mainland last year in the opening round despite being the No. 1 seed. Whichever play-in team wins will have to find some way to stop senior point guard D.J. Germann, who recently scored his 1,000th career point and has nearly 400 points this season. EHT has to play more consistent and inspired defense, which the Eagles have been doing since a blowout loss against St. Joe on Jan. 11.
(11) Absegami at (6) Atlantic City: This could be a really good game, as Absegami has surprised a lot of people this year and has 16 wins, including six of its last seven. The Braves have to score — when they put up less than 55 points they don’t usually win, as they’ve only scored more than 55 in one of their seven losses. Atlantic City has to keep playing good defense. The Vikings have held seven opponents to less than 45 points this season.
(10) Ocean City at (7) St. Joseph Academy: Watch out for the Red Raiders, their record may not be spectacular but this is a good team that has battled some pretty significant injuries. Junior Kori Segich returned in late January and put up double figures in five straight games. Ocean City has to do what it does well, share the ball, find those back-door cuts, create turnovers and turn them into points and get to the free-throw line. St. Joe will have to rely on senior guard Arnaldo Rodriguez to put up some points, and get the ball down low to star forward Devon Theophile. He’ll create a matchup problem for Ocean City.
Bridgeton/Cedar Creek winner at (2) Mainland Regional: The Mustangs aren’t going to blow anybody out in this tournament, but they will be tough to beat simply because they are in great shape, they are tough, they find ways to score when they need to, and their big guys — Mawali Osunniyi, Jamie Tyson and Shawn Williamson — will be a tough matchup for either Bridgeton or Cedar Creek. Mainland just has to stay out of foul trouble and not get too squirrelly on the offensive end.
Play-in Games (on Tuesday): (17) Cape May Tech at (16) Millville; (19) St. Joseph Academy at (14) Vineland; (18) Atlantic Tech at (15) Buena Regional.
Cape May Tech/Millville winner at (1) Mainland Regional: The Stangs just have to step on the gas early and put this one to bed by halftime.
(9) OLMA at (8) Bridgeton: It all comes down to scoring for OLMA, which has won five of its last eight games, and in four of those games the Villagers have posted 55 or more points. They have four players who have scored more than 100 points this year, so they need to spread it around and push the pace. Bridgeton has won 10 straight and is 17-3, but the Bulldogs got blown out by OLMA back in December. They need a big game from their two senior forwards, Clar’nayja Acevedo and Jamya Mosely.
(12) Lower Cape May at (5) Wildwood Catholic: A good ol’ fashioned Cape May County rivalry! This is simple, Lower must defend the three-point line. If you let Wildwood Catholic start draining threes, it’s over.
(13) Cedar Creek at (4) Ocean City: Cedar Creek has to take care of the ball, turnovers have been an issue for the Pirates. They also need to get the ball inside to senior forward Jada Hill, who has more than 100 points and 100 rebounds this season. Ocean City needs to go inside early to Tori Vliet and Ayanna Morton to try to get Hill in foul trouble. The Red Raiders play great defense, so it’s going to be tough for Cedar Creek to score.
St. Joseph Academy/Vineland winner at (3) Middle Township: The Panthers should be able to move on to the next round, they are battle tested and feature one of the best players in the league in guard Jada Elston.
(11) Absegami at (6) Hammonton: The Blue Devils had an inconsistent January and may be without star forward Emma Peretti, who got banged up in a recent win over Holy Spirit. A lot of the scoring load falls on the shoulders of Giada Palmieri and Ava Divello. The Braves can be a dangerous team with the scoring ability of sophomore point guard Reese Downey, but they’ll need some other people around her to step up if they want to make a run in this tournament.
Atlantic Tech/Buena winner at (2) Atlantic City: Neither of the first-round teams has anybody who can match up with Mississippi State commit Quanirah Montague, and Atlantic City senior guard Sasha Lemons has been playing some great basketball. This would be a monumental upset if either team can take down the Vikings.
(10) Egg Harbor Township at (7) Holy Spirit: These teams just played last night with EHT scoring a 49-41 win at Spirit. The key for both teams will be shooting. If Lyla Brown gets hot from the outside that will be a huge lift for EHT, while if Spirit gets a few threes to fall they could go on a run and pull away in a hurry. Don’t be surprised to see a big game from Spirit sophomore Sabrina Little, she’s tough to defend and can get to the free-throw line, especially late in games.