By BRIAN CUNNIFF
Rumors of the demise of the Lower Cape May Regional High School boys basketball team have been greatly exaggerated.
Lower Cape May appeared in the South Jersey title game for the only the second time in March. But six of the team’s top eight players graduated, and some observers thought the team may struggle this season.
That certainly hasn’t been the case so far. Despite a 55-42 loss to Burlington City at the Boardwalk Basketball Classic’s Battle at the Boards showcase event Saturday, Lower is off to a solid 4-1 start to the season.
The Tigers, however, were hoping to be unbeaten heading into Christmas. But a 16-for-56 shooting effort (28.6 percent) was the primary reason for the loss to Burlington City.
“I think we lost an opportunity here,” Lower coach Scott Holden said. “I’ve never seen us shoot as bad as we did in the first half (5 for 24). Burlington City came in here with a pedigree as a program that’s been very good the past few years. To be 4-1 after this game, we’d have to say we’re happy but at the same time we’re not. We lost six of our top eight from last year so there’s going to be a learning curve. We have to learn from this game.”
Lower began the season with wins over Vineland, Cedar Creek, Absegami and Buena before Saturday’s defeat.
“We’ve had a good start but we still have a lot to learn,” Lower sophomore Martin Anguelov said. “We can still grow from this loss and use it in a positive way.”
Anguelov had his lowest scoring output of the season so far against Burlington City, netting nine points. But he’s been brilliant so far. After averaging slightly better than 14 points per game last season, he’s averaging 22 points through the first five games of this season. He’s shooting well from three-point range, having made 19 of 41 attempts from that distance. And he’s also getting to the free-throw line, having made 21 of 28 attempts.
“Martin’s Martin. We know he’s going to go after it with gusto,” Holden said. “We need to get him to work on his defense and some other aspects of his game, but as far as him wanting to be a leader and a go-to guy, you can never question that. He’s going to go all-out for that.”
Senior Pat Moore is Lower’s other returning starter and perimeter threat. Senior Dave Durham is the top post player. He’s averaging 10.8 points and five rebounds per game. Junior Ronnie Jackson stands just 5-10 but is the team’s leading rebounder at 6.2 per game and is making a lot of hustle plays. Tommy Gault, Jordan Pierce, Angel Candelaria and Izaiah Lugo are also regulars in the rotation.
The Tigers, as it seems every season, are undersized and a bit challenged athletically. They try to make up for their deficiencies by playing as a unit.
“We want to carry over what we’ve done the last few years with good team chemistry and have that kind of identity as a program,” Holden said. “That takes time and it takes being able to trust each other. There are times we don’t have that trust yet, where we should bump it one more pass and whatnot. We have to work on that.”
Lower Cape May next plays Thursday against Cristo Rey (Pa.) at the Boardwalk Basketball Classic. The team will then face Phil-Mont Christian (Pa.) or Cumberland on Friday. The Tigers are playing in the tournament’s George Holden Memorial Boys Bracket, named for the former Lower Cape May coach and the current coach’s father. Mr. Holden passed away in July.