By BRIAN CUNNIFF
After suffering two losses over the weekend, albeit to quality opponents, some South Jersey high school basketball observers were questioning what might be wrong with the Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team.
Those questions certainly didn’t go away after Tuesday evening.
Wildwood Catholic, a team ranked third in the state in the preseason, suffered its third straight defeat and its first Cape-Atlantic United Conference loss in more than three years when it fell, 66-58, to St. Joseph in Hammonton.
St. Joseph raced out to a 30-16 lead at the half and eventually led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter. Wildwood Catholic made a strong push in the fourth quarter to cut the St. Joe lead to five points with 1:56 to play but got no closer.
Marcus Pierce, who played at Middle Township last season, scored a game-high 25 points to lead St. Joseph.
Jahlil White tallied 20 points in the loss for the Crusaders.
The Wildcats pulled into a tie for first place in the CAL United with the victory. The teams are both 7-1 in conference play. Wildwood Catholic beat St. Joe earlier this season at home, 101-82.
Wildwood Catholic (15-6 overall, 7-1 CAL United) lost for the fourth time in six games. The Crusaders suffered a 20-point defeat to Seton Hall Prep on Feb. 1, before recording comfortable victories over Pleasantville and Cape May Tech. The team then played well in a 55-48 loss to the Patrick School in front of 5,000 fans at the Metro Classic in Toms River on Saturday before falling at Paul VI, 47-45, on Sunday.
Wildwood Catholic’s previous CAL United loss was a 45-42 defeat to Middle Township on January 27, 2017. The Crusaders, two-time defending CAL playoff tournament champions, went unbeaten in conference play in 2017-18 and 2018-19. They had won 31 straight CAL United games before Tuesday’s loss.