By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – A pair of role players took on critical roles as the Middle Township High School boys basketball team strengthened its conference lead Monday.
Senior Ben Harris and junior Devon Bock combined for 20 points off the bench to help a shorthanded Middle team to a 55-52 win over Wildwood Catholic Academy. The victory was Middle’s sixth straight and improved the team to 9-2 overall, 7-0 in the Cape-Atlantic American Conference.
“We have a deep roster,” Bock said. “We have a lot of guys who can come off the bench and play. That’s what’s really good about our team.”
Middle has won both meetings with the Crusaders this season after losing seven straight to its rival over the past four seasons.
“This means a lot to us,” Bock said. “I grew up watching Middle Township lose to Catholic and that made me upset. To have the opportunity to turn that around … This was a really big game for us. It shows Middle Township is coming back.”
Bock and Harris had their fingerprints all over many of the key plays in the final period. Harris made a pair of three-pointers after Bock’s offensive rebounds. His second gave Middle the lead for good at 51-48 with 2:03 remaining.
“Those offensive rebounds we gave up in the fourth quarter really hurt us,” Wildwood Catholic coach Anthony Raffa said. “They kicked it out to shooters and they made them.”
Harris, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half, iced the game with a pair of free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining that upped a three-point Middle lead to five. Wildwood Catholic’s Azmir Kates scored at the buzzer to set the final score.
Bock finished with nine points and a team-high nine rebounds.
The contributions by Harris and Bock were important for a Middle team that was missing starting point guard Bubba McNeil for the game.
“Devon and Ben were amazing for us,” Middle coach LaMarr Greer said. “That’s why we play so many guys. We believe there’s strength in our numbers. And it’s a testament to them buying in. It can be hard for upperclassmen when so many underclassmen come in and play but our upperclassmen are buying into the system and buying into the culture. It’s a testament to Ben and Devon for them to buy into coming off the bench for us.”
Jamir McNeil led a balanced scoring attack for Middle with 12 points. He sank a pair of free throws after an intentional foul with 1:43 to go to give Middle a 53-48 lead.
Matt Barcas and Anthony Trombetta each added eight points for Middle, which made nine three-point shots in the game.
Sophomore Rashee Bell recorded a double-double for Wildwood Catholic with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Justin Harper and Azmir Kates each added 14.
Middle now has two crucial games coming up with Bridgeton, the first on Wednesday at home and the second on Saturday in Bridgeton. Victories in both would clinch the conference title and an automatic bid to the Cape-Atlantic League playoff tournament. A split would still leave Middle in control of the conference race.
“We’re in good position, especially for what some people thought we were going to be, but I’m already thinking about Bridgeton on Wednesday,” Greer said. “I’m already on, How do we get better?”