By BRIAN CUNNIFF
The Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team found itself in a rather familiar position Tuesday evening — trailing a good team at halftime.
But as they’ve done for every game but one so far this season, the Crusaders rallied for victory.
Wildwood Catholic dominated the second half and scored an 80-66 victory over Immaculata in a South Jersey Non-Public B semifinal game in front of a packed house in the Sister Mary Ellen Ford Gymnasium.
The win sends the Crusaders into the South Jersey title game for the first time since Anthony Raffa led the program to back-to-back sectional titles in 2006 and 2007.
Wildwood Catholic, the top seed in the tournament, will face No. 2 Ranney in the title game Wednesday at Jackson Liberty High School. Ranney, ranked No. 1 in New Jersey and among the top 15 teams in the nation, beat Rutgers Prep, 76-62, in the other semifinal Monday.
Down by a point at 35-34 to Immaculata at the half, Wildwood Catholic (27-1) erupted for a 21-11 surge over the course of the third quarter to take the lead for good. Sophomore DeSean Lopez sparked the run by opening the second half with a three-point basket, a two-point field goal and an assist on a basket by junior Jahlil White.
Fourth-seeded Immaculata (21-8) rallied to within three points in the fourth quarter, but Wildwood Catholic closed the game on a 17-6 run to pull away.
Junior Taj Thweatt, despite some foul trouble, led all scorers with 29 points for the Crusaders. White added 22 points. Thweatt and White combined for numerous highlight-reel dunks, particularly in the second half. Thweatt’s dunk while being fouled with less than three minutes remaining helped seal the victory.
Junior guard Jacob Hopping also scored 22 points for Wildwood Catholic. He made four three-pointers.
The game was played one day later than originally scheduled. Immaculata was closed Monday due to snow.
Wildwood Catholic’s win sets up one of the most highly-anticipated games of the season. Both the Crusaders and Ranney are ranked among the top 10 teams in the state. The teams will combine to feature at least five Division I college prospects. Ranney senior stars Scotty Lewis and Bryan Antoine are set to play college basketball at Florida and Villanova, respectively.