By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

OCEAN CITY — St. Joseph Academy lost its three leading scorers — Marcus Pierce, Jordan Stafford and Dom Thomas — from last year’s team that went 12-2 in the covid-shortened season, but Paul Rodio has this program to the point now where the Wildcats aren’t rebuilding, they simply reload. 

There may be a few names that are, as of yet, unfamiliar to South Jersey basketball fans, but the results are looking a lot like they did last year. St. Joseph came out on Saturday in its season opener against Atlantic City at the Ocean City PBA Tipoff Weekend and throttled the Vikings from start to finish. The Cats started the game on a 8-0 run, then put up a 21-0 run later in the first quarter and into the second quarter that effectively ended the game. St. Joe went on to post a 77-34 victory, shooting 60 percent from the floor and forcing Atlantic City into 23 turnovers. 

Guard Arnaldo Rodriguez led the way with 15 points while adding four assists, and the Wildcats had two other players in double figures — Majid Abdur-Rahim with 14 points and Ian Harvey-Williams with 13 and four assists. The Cats finished with just 31 rebounds because they simply weren’t missing many shots. 

“We lost our three top scorers so I really wanted to see how we were going to respond. It’s a brand-new team, brand-new everything — I didn’t know what to expect, but I was happy from an effort standpoint,” said Rodio, the son of legendary St. Augustine Prep coach Paul Rodio. “I think with this team, especially, because we are so deep — we can go 10 deep — we’re going to beat ourselves. I don’t think there are many teams who can go out and take us away from what we want to do. You saw that a little bit in this game, two-minute stretches with missed layups, fouls, turning the ball over — we’re trying to limit that, and if we can I think we’ll be a force to be reckoned with. 

“We’re just trying to take it with a day-by-day mentality, and that’s been working for us so far.”

Atlantic City had closed the gap to 12-6 on a press-break basket by JaQuel Holmes, but from there it was all St. Joseph. A couple of inside buckets by Jameer Cartagena and Harvey-Williams started a 21-0 run that turned the score from 12-6 to 33-6. The run featured a look at just about everything St. Joseph is capable of, as Abdur-Rahim nailed a three, Harvey-Williams threw down a slam dunk off a steal, Rodriguez scored and easy layup off a steal. Even when the Cats were running their offense everything was going right, as Abdur-Rahim drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner at the first-quarter buzzer to cap off a half-court possession and give St. Joe a 26-6 lead. 

“We’re basically in rebuild mode. We lost our three main players, so we’re just trying to build what we’re doing together. I always look for my teammates because at the end of the day it’s basketball and everybody has to get involved, but for me, I have to score more this year,” said Rodriguez, a junior from Vineland who scored 13 of St. Joe’s 47 first-half points. 

“He’s going to be a major part of what we do,” coach Rodio said of Rodriguez. “We saw glimpses of what he can do last year, like that game against the Prep. He has to be more vocal. And (Ja’son) Prevard is going to be a big part of what we do, Ian Harvey-Williams flies off the rim. We just started practicing a month ago but these guys are starting to mesh, so I’m excited.”

St. Joseph (1-0, 0-0 Cape-Atlantic League United) got seven points each from Prevard and Jared DeMara, and in all 11 players found the score sheet. The Cats also finished with nine blocked shots and 14 steals, led by six from Harvey-Williams. Atlantic City was led by Jacque Pridgen Hill, who had eight points and seven rebounds. Jai Pridgen Hill and Holmes each chipped in six points for the Vikings (0-2, 0-1 CAL American). 

“This gives us motivation for Monday because we play Cedar Creek. We’re 1-0 right now and we want to get to 2-0. We want to stay focused and try to stay undefeated each game,” Rodriguez said. 

For coach Rodio, getting back on the basketball court is a return to a sense of normalcy. His father suffered a serious health scare in the preseason. According to Press of Atlantic City reporter Mike McGarry, the elder Rodio underwent emergency surgery on Oct. 1 because of blood clots in his chest, and there were questions as to whether or not he’d be able to coach this season. He was on the bench Saturday night as his Hermits rallied to beat Lower Cape May, 71-58. Rodio is closing in on 1,000 career victories. He currently has 969 wins. 

“I just hope we stay locked in with a business-like mentality. My dad always taught me, don’t get too high or too low,” the younger Rodio said. “I’m excited to be back and I’m so happy my dad is back. That was a scary thing we were a part of, but it puts it all into perspective. Basketball is the best part of the year, I just have to watch and make sure my dad stays healthy.”

What’s next: St. Joseph Academy travels to Cedar Creek on Monday at 5:30 p.m. Atlantic City hosts Absegami on Monday at 7 p.m.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays