By BRIAN CUNNIFF
NORTH WILDWOOD — There have been times this season when the Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team has gotten off to slow starts in games.
Friday was not one of those times.
The Crusaders dominated Lower Cape May practically from start to finish in rolling to a 70-39 victory in the quarterfinal round of the Cape-Atlantic League playoff tournament.
The win places top-seeded and defending CAL champion Wildwood Catholic (23-1) into the semifinal round, in which it will play fourth-seeded Pleasantville on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Absegami High School. Pleasantville was a 77-61 winner over No. 5 St. Joseph in its quarterfinal game.
Lower Cape May (16-8) hung in for the first few minutes, trailing just 8-6, but Wildwood Catholic erupted for a 14-0 run that swelled its lead to 22-6 early in the second quarter. Lower Cape May got no closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
Ahead 35-17 at the half, Wildwood Catholic went on to outscore the Caper Tigers 26-12 in the third quarter to lead 61-29 going into the fourth. No Crusader starter played in the final period.
“Initially, I don’t think we were real focused but I think we got focused pretty quickly after that,” Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese said. “Halfway through the first quarter and then the second quarter, we were definitely more focused. And then we were very focused in the third quarter. I thought we played a very good third quarter.”
Jahlil White was practically unstoppable for Wildwood Catholic. He shot 11 for 16 from the floor and scored 24 points to lead all scorers. Teammate Taj Thweatt was equally dominant, netting 20 points. Five of his eight field goals were dunks.
The Crusaders scored quite a few baskets in transition after forcing Lower Cape May into turnovers.
“We try to use our defense to create offense as much as we can and did a good job of that tonight,” DeWeese said. “Our defense got us going on the offensive end of the floor.”
Dave Durham led Lower Cape May with 11 points.
Wildwood Catholic has twice won the CAL playoff tournament. In addition to last season’s title, the Crusaders were also the 2014 champions.
Crusader starters White, Thweatt, Jacob Hopping and Jake McGonigle were each instrumental in the team’s run to last year’s CAL tournament championship.
“We hope experience helps,” DeWeese said. “We’ll be playing a good team. We’re going to have to be very well prepared and bring our best to be able to get by on Wednesday.”
Wildwood Catholic has won 18 straight games. The Crusaders’ lone defeat was a 57-51 loss to Camden on Dec. 27.
Wednesday’s CAL semifinal will be broadcast live by 98.7 The Coast Radio, with a live video stream available on CoastSportsToday.com.