By BRIAN CUNNIFF
NORTH WILDWOOD — A little more than a year ago, the Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team lost in overtime eventual Tournament of Champions winner Ranney in the South Jersey title game.
The moment that game ended, the returning players vowed to do whatever they could to return to that game this season.
Wildwood Catholic will play for the South Jersey Non-Public B championship for the second straight season, thanks to Saturday’s dominating 79-52 victory over Mater Dei in the sectional semifinal round.
The second-seeded Crusaders will face top-seeded Rutgers Prep in the title game Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Jackson Liberty High School. The game will air live on 98.7 The Coast. Rutgers Prep was an 68-48 winner over Holy Cross in its semifinal game on Saturday.
“Things have fallen into place,” Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese said. “We’re where we want to be. Now we have to take advantage of the opportunity to go up there and win the game. It’s going to be a war. Rutgers Prep is a very, very good team. Hopefully, we’ll be ready and, hopefully, we’ll play well.”
Wildwood Catholic (23-7) nearly blew Mater Dei (17-11) out of the gym at the start, the Crusaders exploding for a 16-3 run to start the game. But Mater Dei eventually got to within three in the second quarter before Wildwood Catholic finished the period on an 18-9 spurt to lead 39-27 at the half. Mater Dei got no closer than a 10-point deficit in the second half.
“Our kids came out really strong,” DeWeese said. “They’re a very good team. They’re resilient, they’re very well coached and they play hard. They threw some punches and got themselves back in the game a couple times but, to our kids’ credit, we withstood those punches and made runs of our own.”
Seniors Jahlil White, Taj Thweatt and Jacob Hopping were sensational in their final home game. White led all scorers with 27 points. Thweatt, honored before the game for passing 1,000 career rebounds, added 14 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots. And Hopping contributed 19 points while also holding Mater Dei leading scorer Pete Gorman to five points through three quarters. Gorman finished with 10 points.
Junior Martin Anguelov also achieved a personal milestone, draining a long three-pointer in the fourth quarter to score his 1,000th career point.
“It was nice to see him get it tonight,” DeWeese said. “I’m glad he got it done. To have two big milestones celebrated tonight and then to celebrate a win on top of that, it’s really nice. But we have a lot of unfinished business to take care of on Wednesday.”