By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The graduation of Mainland Regional’s Kylee Watson two years ago left a void in the Cape-Atlantic League’s upper stratosphere of stardom. We didn’t really get a chance to see who could be that next star earlier this year in the CAL’s covid-shortened 2021 season.

Atlantic City junior Quanirah Montague might just be the next big thing in the league judging by her performance on Monday night in a key early season American Conference matchup against Absegami. The host Braves did everything they could to stop Montague, a 6-foot-4 forward who, oh by the way, also plays point guard much of the time. Absegami coach Bobby Lasko tried throwing different players at her, double-team defenses — you name it — but to no avail.

Montague filled up the stat sheet with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots, leading Atlantic City past the Braves, 45-35, in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week. The Vikings moved into sole possession of first place in the CAL American, a half-game ahead of Mainland Regional (2-0, 1-0).

Glory Days photo/Sully

“I just had to get rid of my attitude. I was a little upset. I wasn’t doing too well in the beginning. I have to stop being mad when the calls are going against me, and just play better,” Montague said. “This was a big win, and I appreciate this win. My family (in the stands) helped me out a lot. I’m excited for this season.”

“She had a little tweak injury last game, so she was a little off this game. That’s why she looked a little awkward in the first half, but once she puts her mind to it there’s not much you can do with her,” said Atlantic City coach Jason Lantz. “She can do it all — she can handle it, she can shoot it, she can get to the rim. She’s a high-caliber player and our expectations are for her to get better as the year goes on. Thank God we have her for two more years, and hopefully every game she gets better.”

Absegami freshman Reese Downey scored on a driving layup to cut Atlantic City’s lead to 33-25 to start the fourth quarter, but that’s when Montague really made her mark and effectively put the game out of reach. She answered that bucket with a driving layup of her own to increase the Vikings’ advantage to 10 points, 35-25, then with 5:49 remaining she nailed a 3-pointer to push it to 38-25. Downey answered right back with a three of her own to once again trim the lead to 10, but on the next possession Montague took control, driving in as a point guard and finishing with a left-handed layup to make it 40-28.

The Braves (1-1, 0-1 CAL American) got a three from senior guard Jackie Fortis to get to within 40-31 with 3:30 remaining, but Atlantic City got a bucket from Nashira Suarez and a couple of free throws from Sanai Garrison-Macon to keep Absegami at bay.

Glory Days photo/Sully

“I think Bob is an excellent coach and he had a nice game plan,” Lantz said. “My girls, we’re learning — and what I mean by that is just little things like discipline, where to be in certain situations, what to do in certain situations. That’s our responsibility as a coaching staff, to make sure they are prepared for different things. Traps, little things that put us in awkward positions. Kudos to Bob, I think he did an outstanding job with his team.”

It wasn’t all Montague, however, as Atlantic City displayed its versatility and depth in the win. Sasha Lemons hit a pair of big threes, including one halfway through the third quarter that pushed Atlantic City’s lead to 26-20, and Cea’anai Jackson-Williams was a defensive force in the paint, grabbing seven rebounds. Garrison-Macon — the team’s natural point guard — finished with a couple of steals and four assists, and freshman Alexis Gormley added eight points.

“Lemons has taken on a tremendous leadership role and she’s not afraid of any challenges. She loves defending the better players and she’s always in everybody’s head to just keep going. And Macon is doing the same thing, giving high-fives and giving (teammates) that extra push,” Lantz said. “The player I’m most impressed with this season is Suarez. She’s stepped up her defensive game, and offensively it’s hard to stay in front of her.”

Downey led the Braves with 17 points while Fortis and Chi Chi Wokocha combined for 15 more.

What’s Next: Atlantic City vs. Imhotep, time TBD. Absegami travels to Atlantic Christian today at 5:30 p.m.

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