By BRIAN CUNNIFF
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP – The Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team certainly had its opportunities.
The Crusaders missed a free throw and two shots in the lane in the final 12 seconds and suffered a 60-59 loss to Atlantic City in a game featuring two of the best teams not only in the Cape-Atlantic League but across South Jersey as well.
With Atlantic City’s home court unavailable due to floor damage caused by a broken water pipe last month, the game was played at Richard Stockton University in front of a large crowd. The teams did not disappoint the fans, treating those in attendance to a 32-minute thriller that featured several lead changes.
Atlantic City took the lead for good at 60-58 when Nazim Derry swished a three-pointer from the top of the key with a little less than a minute to play.
Wildwood Catholic’s Taj Thweatt was fouled with 12 seconds to play and made 1 of 2 free throws. Teammate Charles Fields rebounded the miss but missed his put-back attempt. Atlantic City eventually gathered the loose ball but was whistled for a traveling violation. The Vikings then knocked the ball loose on the ensuing Crusader inbound play and a held ball was eventually created with 3.2 seconds to play. Wildwood Catholic got the ball to Caleb Fields, who drove into the lane from the right wing only to see his scoop shot miss as time expired.
“We had some missed opportunities down the stretch,” Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese said. “We missed a dunk, missed a foul shot and we had a couple around the basket that we didn’t score on. We didn’t score in the last minute and seven seconds. We didn’t just have an opportunity. We had opportunities. We just didn’t convert.
“It was a very good game. Two very good teams that really battled.”
Caleb Fields led Wildwood Catholic with 24 points, scoring 16 of them in the second half. Charles Fields added 16 points and 11 rebounds and Taj Thweatt posted 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Ray Bethea canned 24 points to lead Atlantic City.
Atlantic City (17-3) likely locked up the top seed for the upcoming Cape-Atlantic League playoff tournament with the victory. Wildwood Catholic (17-2) will likely have to settle for the No. 2 or 3 seed, with St. Augustine also in the mix for a top-three seed. The tournament is scheduled to begin at the end of next week. Seeding should be set by midweek.
“We’ve thought that we’re the best team (in the CAL) and this game doesn’t change anything in our minds,” DeWeese said. “Atlantic City is a very good team and some of the other teams are very good, too, but we still think we can be the best and we look forward to playing everybody in the tournament.”