By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — When ruminating about which team in the Cape-Atlantic League is best, throughout the 2021 season there were two teams in the conversation for most fans — St. Augustine Prep and St. Joseph Academy. After Saturday afternoon, Egg Harbor Township has to be the third team under consideration.
In one of the biggest games of coach Cameron Bell’s career this side of last season’s South Jersey Group 4 semifinal loss to Cherry Hill East, the host Eagles went out and proved they should be considered one of the best teams in the league by beating St. Joseph Academy 66-60 to cap off a 14-1 season. It was a brilliant ending to a campaign whose only blemish was a 55-51 setback against Holy Spirit on Feb. 13. Egg Harbor Township finished the season on a nine-game winning streak and went 11-1 in the CAL North to edge out Holy Spirit (10-5, 10-2) for the division title.
“It’s a great way to end what was a weird, unpredictable year,” coach Bell said. “To get 15 games in — I mean, half the CAL didn’t, so I’m proud of my coaching staff and I’m most proud of my players. They listed to every word I said from January 11 to today. I’m just proud of them.”
Bell said he thought his team was a great matchup for the way St. Joseph (12-2, 11-1 CAL West) plays, and he wasn’t wrong. The Eagles took a 28-27 lead into halftime thanks to some big buckets from sophomore point guard D.J. Germann, who finished with a game-high 21 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. EHT got 10 points from junior guard Carlos Lopez, who netted career point No. 1,000 in the third quarter on a free throw, and 16 points and seven rebounds from senior Ethan Dodd. The Eagles also got a huge game from senior Ahmad Brock, who scored just four points but had 12 rebounds, four assists, five blocked shots and a pair of steals.
“What I saw was that offensively they played into our hands the way we like to play defense. We prefer you to have to run through your offense and run through what we call the ‘hot coals’ of our half-court defense. We thought as time went on, that would work into our favor,” Bell said. “We have a core group, we lean on that core group and they always deliver. They certainly delivered today.”
“It was a good performance. We weren’t playing that well in the first half but we came out in the second, coach gave us some plays. He wanted us to get to the bucket and get some points,” Germann said. “(Brock) has been really good for us this year, and all-around player who does a little bit of everything. He gets rebounds, plays defense — everything.”
The game turned early in the second half as Dodd got things started with a three that push EHT’s lead to 31-27. Lopez nailed a three, and less than three minutes into the second half EHT had a 10-point lead, 41-31. But St. Joe is a team that can score in bunches, and do it in a hurry. Behind some big performances from stars Marcus Pierce and Dom Thomas the Wildcats roared back, cutting the deficit to 54-50 with five minutes to go. The Eagles maintained a four-point lead until just more than two minutes remaining, when Pierce scored off a steal then nailed a short jumper to pull the Cats to within 62-60 with 48 seconds left. But then Germann scored on a driving layup and added a couple of free throws, and EHT’s defense held St. Joe scoreless the rest of the way. Pierce finished with 20 points to lead St. Joe while Thomas added 13 points and seven rebounds.
“My mindset was to just come out there and play hard, play as a team and run through our sets. We played a lot of good defense and we just played really hard. We gave it all we had. This was a real good win for us, especially it being my last game,” said J.J. Germann, a senior and D.J.’s older brother. “In past years we may have had some bad seasons, but this year we’re 14-1 and this is a really good win for us. The coaches have changed up some things and our younger guys got a little bit older and matured more.”
To say the win was a statement victory for EHT might be, well, an understatement. It’s the kind of win coach Bell and his staff have been looking for to legitimize EHT as a program on the rise.
“We’re one of the few true public schools. There are some schools that are public but they are choice, but with us, you have to live in EHT. I think this win bodes well for our program and people wanting to stay in town,” he said. “The day I got hired, two people called me — Gene Allen from Atlantic City and Paul Rodio from St. Augustine Prep, and both said the same thing: ‘you are the Rutgers of the CAL. You gotta keep the kids home.’ And here we are.”
“This is a great win for us. It shows we can play with anybody,” D.J. Germann added.
Dodd wasn’t shy about saying how important this victory was for the program.
“This means everything for the program. We were 13-1 but everybody was saying how our schedule was light and that we weren’t beating good teams. This really shows we can play with anyone and we’re one of the best teams in the CAL. Going into next season (EHT) is going to be one of the top teams, without a doubt. With guys like Isaiah Glenn, Carlos and D.J., they’re going to be really good,” he said. “This feels great. It’s an awesome way to finish my career. I’ll miss playing here, it was an awesome experience just getting that adrenaline rush every time we played a game, playing in front of the home crowd — even though we didn’t get to much this year — I’ll miss it. I’ll miss it all.
“The future for these guys is a state Group 4 title, I’m telling you that right now. This is a special group.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays