By BRIAN CUNNIFF
NORTH WILDWOOD – For the third straight time, the Wildwood Catholic Academy girls basketball program will play in a Cape-Atlantic League semifinal game.
The Crusaders pushed aside the age-old notion that it’s difficult to beat a team three times in the same season by racing past rival Middle Township, 49-36, in a CAL playoff tournament quarterfinal Friday.
Wildwood Catholic, the third seed in the eight-team tournament, will next face the winner of Saturday’s game between No. 2 Ocean City and No. 7 Absegami. The two CAL semifinal games are set for Thursday at Atlantic City High School.
The Crusaders, as has been the case all season, used their remarkable balance to pull away from Middle. Sophomore Ella McCabe led Wildwood Catholic (20-4) with 15 points, scoring 11 in the second half. Her three-pointers on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter gave Wildwood Catholic a 30-12 lead.
But Middle, behind junior Jada Elston, made things interesting. The Lady Panthers rallied to close to within nine after scoring the first basket of the fourth quarter. But Wildwood Catholic followed with a 15-5 run to put the game away.
The Crusaders led by as many as 21 points with two minutes to play.
Senior Kimmy Casiello, who learned after the game that she has been selected to play in the North-South state all-star game in March, added 12 points and sophomore Kaci Mikulksi sank 10 points for Wildwood Catholic.
Middle’s Elston led all scorers with 19 points, getting 17 of them in the second half.
Wildwood Catholic held a 24-9 lead at the half, holding Middle to just three first-half field goals.
The CAL championship game is set for Saturday, Feb. 26, at Absegami High School.
The Crusaders also reached the CAL semifinal round in 2019 and 2020. The CAL did not hold a tournament last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wildwood Catholic’s lone CAL title game appearance came in 2014 when the Crusaders lost to Middle Township.
Wildwood Catholic has earned a first-round bye for the South Jersey Non-Public B Tournament and will not begin competing in the state playoffs until Friday, March 4.
Middle (14-10) will play a CAL consolation game next week before preparing for the South Jersey Group II Tournament, which begins Feb. 28.