By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
The Ocean City PBA Tipoff Weekend has become a staple as signaling the start of the high school basketball season in South Jersey. The event began in 1998 and annually features some of the top boys and girls teams in South Jersey. This year is no different.
Here’s a quick look at the complete schedule, plus players and games to watch this Saturday and Sunday at Dixie Howell Gymnasium on the campus of Ocean City High School.
Noon: (Girls) Vineland vs. Holy Spirit
1:30 p.m.: (Girls) Ocean City vs. Egg Harbor Township
3 p.m.: (Girls) Wildwood Catholic vs. Hammonton
4:30 p.m.: Wildwood Catholic vs. Millville
6 p.m.: (Girls) Mainland vs. Atlantic City
7:30 p.m.: Egg Harbor Township vs. St. Augustine Prep
Noon: Pleasantville vs. Vineland
1:45 p.m.: (Girls) Absegami vs. Wildwood
3:30 p.m.: Atlantic City vs. Shawnee
5:15 p.m.: St. Joseph Academy vs. Lower Cape May
7 p.m.: Ocean City vs. Holy Spirit
Games to Watch: On Saturday, the game between Wildwood Catholic and Millville should be pretty interesting. The Thunderbolts rolled past Atlantic City in their season opener on Thursday night thanks in large part to a strong defensive effort. Millville racked up 33 rebounds and 10 steals, and also put three players in double figures. Wildwood Catholic, meanwhile, came within four points of knocking off EHT, the No. 1 seed in last year’s Cape-Atlantic League Tournament, in the season opener on Thursday.
Another really interesting game is the 6 p.m. matchup between Mainland and Atlantic City on the girls side. Atlantic City has Mississippi State commit Quanirah Montague, a 6-foot-5 guard/forward hybrid and the Mustangs simply don’t have anybody to match up with her. (Who in South Jersey does?) But the Stangs counter with three electrifying guards in Ava and Bella Mazur and Kasey Bretones. If Montague gets in some early foul trouble, watch out, Mainland will look to push the tempo and score as many points as possible if she has to go to the bench. Atlantic City will have to step up its game defensively.
The marquee game of the whole weekend happens on Saturday night when EHT squares up against St. Augustine Prep. Both teams struggled a little bit in winning their season openers on Thursday, but both are loaded with talent and can run scores up into the 60s, 70s and even 80s on occasion. This game will feature plenty of 3-point shooting and more than likely several dunks. If you’re a South Jersey basketball fan, this is the game to be at this weekend.
The Sunday afternoon slate features an interesting girls game as Absegami squares off against Wildwood, typically one of the best small school teams in South Jersey. The Warriors have Macie McCracken, younger sister of former standout Maddie McCracken, but the Braves counter with one of the best young point guards in the state in Reese Downey.
The nightcap should be a thriller, too, as the Ocean City boys are coming off an eye-opening win over St. Joseph Academy on opening night, while Holy Spirit nearly knocked off St. Augustine Prep in its opener.
Players to Watch:
D.J. Germann, EHT boys: This kid is electric. A high-scoring point guard — which is rare at the high school level — Germann is pretty much unstoppable when it comes to getting his points. Teams have to make sure to stop the four other guys in EHT’s lineup, which isn’t always easy, not with guys such as Jay Nelly Reyes and Holy Spirit transfer Jamil Wilkins. Germann can shoot, drive the basket, get points in transition, out of the half-court offense, and many times will make acrobatic shots that he probably has no business even attempting. He’s fun to watch.
Ava Kraybill, EHT girls: Just a sophomore, she showed advanced skills for a freshman last year and now with a year of experience under her belt she could be primed for a breakout year. She led the Eagles with eight points in a season-opening win over Cedar Creek, but expect that point total to increase in closer games.
Ava Sheeran, Mainland girls: With so much attention focused on the Mazur twins and Bretones, somebody is going to have to pick up the slack with scoring and Sheeran may just be that player. She dropped in eight points in the season-opening win over Ocean City, and she’s the younger brother of two-sport Mainland standout Joe Sheeran, so you know she’s going to play with toughness and focus on the fundamentals. Joe Sheeran has made a name for himself as a steady, reliable player for both the football and baseball programs at Mainland and is one of the top leaders in the senior class. Ava seems to be cut from the same mold.
Reese Downey, Absegami girls: The sophomore point guard is one of the most creative and fun-to-watch guards in South Jersey. She can break ankles on the dribble, shake defenders for a step-back 3-pointer, drive the lane and finish with teardrop layups — there’s not a lot she can’t do.