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VIDEO: Call it a dynasty — Crusaders roll to third straight CAL title


GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — When the Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team plays at its best, there aren’t many opponents that stand a chance.

St. Augustine Prep found that out Saturday afternoon in the Cape-Atlantic League championship game at Richard Stockton University.

Wildwood Catholic used a stellar defensive effort and elite offensive efficiency to blow away the Hermits, 70-39, in a game that was lopsided from start to finish.

Taj Thweatt accepts the MVP trophy after leading Wildwood Catholic to its third straight win in the CAL title game.

Wildwood Catholic joins St. Augustine (2001-04, 2015-17) and Atlantic City (1992-94) as the only teams to win at least three straight CAL title games.

The championship was also Wildwood Catholic’s fourth overall, the Crusaders also winning in 2014. Wildwood Catholic’s four championships are the most since the league began its postseason tournament in 2012.

“To win this three straight years is really, really special,” Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese said. “This tournament, in my mind, is the greatest thing that’s happened to the Cape-Atlantic League. Ever since this tournament started it’s been one of the biggest highlights in South Jersey basketball every year, so it’s really special to win one, let alone three in a row. It’s great for the kids and it’s great for the fans. Overall this tournament is just a wonderful experience.”

Wildwood Catholic (20-7), the top seed in the eight-team tournament, couldn’t have been much better offensively. The Crusaders shot a blistering 29 for 47 from the floor (61.7 percent) and were 8 for 16 from three-point range.

Senior forward Taj Thweatt, named the game’s Most Valuable Player, was particularly efficient. He shot 10 for 11 from the floor, including 4 for 4 on three-point attempts, and scored a game-high 24 points.

Jahlil White added 17 points and three steals and Jacob Hopping chipped in 10 points and eight assists.

Wildwood Catholic produced 20 assists on its 29 baskets.

“Today I thought we were really playing as a team,” DeWeese said. “When we play as a team, we can be pretty darn good. When we try to the one-on-one stuff, we not as good of a team. Today we showed what kind of offense we can play when we really share the ball.”

The Crusader defense was equally on point. 

Wildwood Catholic ran out to an 18-5 lead after the first quarter. White, Hopping and Martin Anguelov each hit three-pointers and Thweatt had two thunderous dunks in the period.

By halftime, the lead swelled to 30-10 after the Crusaders reeled off a 12-2 run. St. Augustine recorded just three field goals in the first half, one of which was a three-pointer just prior to the halftime buzzer.

Wildwood Catholic employed a 2-3 matchup zone defense for most of the game.

“Our kids got sold on it at the Camden game (an overtime loss). We played that defense pretty much the entire game against Camden and the kids saw the difficulty they had against it,” DeWeese said. “We used again the other night (in a semifinal win) against St. Joseph and it was very effective and then again today. The kids have bought in. It’s now our signature defense.”

Second-seeded St. Augustine (21-5) finally gave its fan base something to cheer when it scored eight straight points early in the third quarter to pull to within 15 points at 35-20. But Wildwood Catholic finished the quarter on a 15-4 run, highlighted by a pair of Thweatt three-pointers, to put the game away.

Wildwood Catholic’s starters were pulled from the contest with more than four minutes remaining after the Crusaders built a lead that swelled to as high as 37 points in the final period.

The 31-point margin of victory represents the largest in the 29-year history of the contest. The previous widest margin of victory was 28 points in 2014, when Wildwood Catholic beat Atlantic City, 61-33.