BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP — The St. Augustine Prep boys basketball team reasserted itself Friday night.
Guard David Sullivan scored 17 points as the Hermits pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat Hammonton 51-35 in a matchup of Cape-Atlantic League National Conference contenders.
St. Augustine (5-1) is a perennial power and ranked No. 6 in The Press Elite 11. But Friday’s game was the first marquee game the Hermits had played since a 67-47 loss at Middle Township on Dec. 18.
That lopsided defeat caused some fans to question how good the Hermits could be this season.
“This is a team that’s a work in progress,” St. Augustine coach Paul Rodio said Friday.
Meanwhile, there was plenty of early-season buzz about Hammonton (7-2), which is more typically known for its football success. The Blue Devils feature forward Christian Mortellite, who averaged 27 points in Hammonton’s first eight games.
St. Augustine geared its defense toward stopping Mortellite, who sank 4-of-13 shots and finished with 10 points. The Hermits began the game in a box-and-one defense.
“The plan was to frustrate him and not let him get clean looks,” Rodio said of Mortellite. “We wanted to keep him off balance. They’ve been very comfortable all year against everybody they’ve played.”
Sullivan, a 6-foot-2 senior from Egg Harbor Township, guarded Mortellite most of the contest.
“We wanted to get in his face without fouling,” Sullivan said. “It took a team effort to stop someone like that. I take pride in trying to stop (a player) like that.”
Despite its offensive struggles, Hammonton only trailed 34-28 at the start of the fourth quarter.
But St. Augustine began the final quarter with a 7-1 run to build a 41-29 lead with 5 minutes, 7 seconds left in the game. The Hermits’ lead never again dipped below double digits.
Sullivan, who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, sank a pair of driving layups during the spurt. Freshman forward Mike Vasturia (9 points) scored the other three points of that run on a basket in the lane and a foul shot.
Sullivan’s defense sparked his offense. He was able to convert some Hammonton turnovers and missed shots into fast-break baskets, especially during the second half when he used his speed to beat Hammonton defenders down the floor.
St. Augustine hopes to build on the momentum of Friday’s win as it begins league play in earnest this month.
“We think we’re only going to get better with time,” Sullivan said. “We have a lot of younger pieces. We feel like when we put it together, it’s going to fit really well. So this was a big win.”
Hammonton coach Joe Martino said the loss was disappointing but won’t have a lasting effect on the Blue Devils. Martino said the Hammonton players are still getting to know each other.
“They limited our offensive opportunities,” he said. “You have to give them all the credit in the world. We’re still excited. I’m very confident these guys are going to get better as the season goes on.”
Contact Michael McGarry:
Hammonton 13 5 10 7—35
St. Augustine 9 14 11 17—51
HAM—Mortellite 4 2-4 10, Rivera 0 0-0 0, Hughey 1 0-0 2, Porteons 4 0-0 8, Harris 3 0-1 6, Pugh 4 0-0 9, Costa 0 0-2 0. Totals 16 2-7 35.
SA—Sullivan 5 7-8 17, Seward 1 1-2 3, Vasturia 3 3-6 9, Rosell 1 0-0 3, Gatto 2 0-0 4, Greenman 2 1-2 6, Segal 4 0-0 9. Totals 18 12-18 51.
3-pointers—Pugh HAM. Rosell, Greenman, Segal SA.
Records—Hammonton 7-2; St. Augustine 5-1