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TOM WILLIAMS COLUMN: “The best of 2017-18 CAL basketball”

High school basketball ended in New Jersey last week with a doubleheader in Trenton to decide the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions titles. All Star Saturday was last Saturday where 33 Cape-Atlantic League seniors wore their team uniforms for the last time.

There was one South Jersey champion from the CAL this year. The Ocean City girls repeated as South Jersey Group 3 winners for the third consecutive year, marking eight straight seasons the CAL has boasted a South Jersey champ in girls basketball. Between boys and girls basketball, at least one CAL team has won a South Jersey title in 47 of the last 48 years.

Wildwood Catholic won the CAL championship for the second time, ending St. Augustine’s three-year run. Among the girls, Mainland defeated Ocean City in overtime to win its first championship. It was the third straight overtime win by the Mustangs over the Raiders.

Before we put this CAL season into the books, it is time for the annual basketball buffet, a list of the best of the just completed season from one point of view.

All Cape-Atlantic Boys: Ray Bethea, Atlantic City; Caleb Fields, Wildwood Catholic; Marlin Hargis, St. Augustine; Patrick Holden, Lower Cape May; Marcellus Ross, St. Joseph.

All Cape-Atlantic Girls: Danielle Donoghue, Ocean City; Alexis Harrison, Millville; Marianna Papazoglou, Wildwood Catholic; Ciani Redd-Howard, Atlantic City; Kylee Watson, Mainland.

Players of the Year: Caleb Fields and Kylee Watson.

New Jersey’s Best: The Gatorade New Jersey Players of the Year were Jahvon Quinerly of Hudson Catholic and Dara Mabrey of Manasquan, both return choices from last year. Quinerly will be heading to Villanova and Mabrey to Virginia Tech.

The Predicted 2019-20 CAL Boys All Star Team: Martin, Anguelov, Lower Cape May; Matt Delaney, St. Augustine; Jake Hopping, Wildwood Catholic; Taj Thweatt, Wildwood Catholic; Jahlil White, Wildwood Catholic.

The Predicted 2019-20 CAL Girls All Star Team: Emma Finnegan, Ocean City; Marianna Papazoglou, Wildwood Catholic; Ciani Redd-Howard, Atlantic City; Kira Sides, Middle Township; Kylee Watson, Mainland.

All Transfer Team: Jake Hopping (Holy Spirit to Wildwood Catholic); Tahira Howard (Atlantic Tech to Atlantic City); Sahmir Jones (Mainland to Pleasantville); Ciani Redd-Howard (Holy Spirit to Atlantic City); Zion Teague (Vineland to Atlantic City) .

2,000 Points: Patrick Holden surpassed the 2K mark in career scoring this year, something only done before in the CAL by seven other players. Holden finished fourth all-time in career scoring in the league and third in Cape May County history. One of the two ahead of him is Kyion Flanders of Wildwood, who also passed the 2,000-point mark this year. And, if everything plays out right, there could be another 2,000-point scorer coming next year in Cape May Tech’s Josh Wright.

Home Court Advantage: Only one team was undefeated on its home court this year – Atlantic City was 2-0 in its magnificent high school gymnasium and 8-0 when it played its home games at the Martin Luther King Complex or Stockton University. The Cape May Tech boys were 11-4 at home but 2-10 on the road and Egg Harbor Township boys were 5-4 at home but 4-12 on the road. The Absegami girls were 7-5 at home but 3-11 away from home and the EHT girls had a 6-4 home record but were 3-10 after riding the bus.

Biggest Improvement: The biggest jumps in wins from 2016-17 to this year was 10 more wins by the Wildwood Catholic boys and six additional wins by the Mainland girls. Both improvements led to championships.

Injury of the Year: There were players who missed games because of injury, absences that may have affected the outcome of games. But there was no damage to any player that had as much impact on CAL basketball as the damage done to the Atlantic City High School gymnasium. There will be a new floor and likely new bleachers ready for next year. But this season was a scramble because the ACHS court was not available.

Another Verizon Fios Salute: Thorough coverage of CAL basketball expanded through the broadcast media, probably as thorough as any league in the state. And, while live radio coverage has been around for decades, video streaming continued to progress this season. Matt Ulmer, the Dean of Stream, again covered games online all over South Jersey with his camera and laptop this year. WSNJ streamed St. Augustine Prep home games. Coastal Broadcasting covered Cape May County like a beach blanket. And 97.3-ESPN expanded its coverage. Look for the expansion to continue next year.

CAL Boys Coach of the Year: You always consider Paul Rodio, Gene Allen and Dave DeWeese. These three men are the coaches others are measured against. They won 71 games between them and continue to demonstrate their love for the game and the challenges of high school sports. Scott Holden took Lower Cape May to a South Jersey final, Jamie Gillespie guided Holy Spirit to a conference championship in a very competitive race and Mike Jones (Millville), Paul Rodio (St. Joseph) and Butch Warner (Pleasantville) took their teams successfully through challenging schedules. But the nod this year goes to Ocean City’s John Bruno. With only one starter back he produced a 20-game winner, his first and the first at the school in 36 years. Bruno’s teams always compete and improve but this year’s success was a tribute to his coaching skills.

CAL Boys Coach of the Year: Paul Baruffi is in the same category as Rodio, Allen and DeWeese are in boys basketball. His teams will always overachieve. This year’s team was no exception, winning a third straight South Jersey title after graduating four starters. Jason Kessler did another great job at Millville, Jason Lantz took on all challengers at Atlantic City, Jason Vander Ryk continued to build Atlantic Tech, Jackie Siscone (Holy Spirit) and Jess Sartorio (Cedar Creek) made impressive debuts (so did Teresa Cunniff outside the CAL at Wildwood) and John Leahy brought along a young team at Middle Township. But the nod goes to Mainland’s Scott Betson who had a record-setting season, brought his school its first CAL championship and did it under a bright spotlight and in what could best be described as a tense atmosphere.

Team of the Year: It is necessary to step away from the basketball court and walk very carefully to the pool. Mainland’s boys swim team won a second straight state title, was the best team in South Jersey and ranked third in the state. And their best swimmer, Destin Lasco, who was named the Swimmer of the Year in the state by, is a sophomore.

Shots of the Year: It is hard to pick one. They weren’t game-winners, like the shots normally chosen here each year. But the incredible slam-dunks by Atlantic City’s Flash Morgan highlighted the season. It is safe to say that in the nearly 70 years of CAL basketball no player ever dunked as easily and with as much athletic skill as Morgan. He earned the name Flash.

Games of the Year: They played four times and all four were thrillers. Both the Ocean City girls and the Mainland girls won championships in games against each other. Three of the four games went into overtime and the fourth came down to the last possession. Always a great rivalry, the Ocean City-Mainland girls games exceeded expectations this year.

Two Farewells – with Respect: Lower Cape May’s Scott Holden and Millville’s Jason Kessler both have stepped down. Holden comes from one of the great basketball families in South Jersey and coached the Tigers with dedication and skill. Kessler took over a Millville program that had become known for long losing streaks and steadily built it into something that brought pride to the CAL. High school basketball has lost two special coaches.

The Cape-Atlantic League was successful again during the 2017-18 basketball season. There are many talented young players returning, so things should be entertaining again next year.

Spring sports are starting but it will be less than 37 weeks until basketball returns.