ABSECON — It took Junior Saintel of the Holy Spirit High School boys basketball team less than 20 seconds to score more points Tuesday night than he did in the past two games combined.
The 6-foot-6 Saintel caught an alley-oop pass from guard Paul Moore and slammed home the ball for an acrobatic dunk with 7 minutes, 41 seconds left in the first quarter.
Saintel finished with 13 points to propel the Spartans to a 57-35 win over Red Bank Catholic in a South Jersey Non-Public A first-round game. The eighth-seeded Spartans (16-10) will play at top-seeded Notre Dame (Mercer County) in the quarterfinals Thursday.
“This is big-time,” Saintel said of the win. “We want to go as far in the tournament as possible.”
Saintel had scored just a single point in Spirit’s previous two games — losses to Atlantic City and Shawnee.
“I haven’t been playing to my potential,” Saintel said. “But (Tuesday) I got off to a good start and that gave me momentum. It’s always good to help the team out.”
Saintel, a junior, averages around 12 points. He is one of the region’s top players and a Division I college prospect. He needs to score for Spirit to be at its best. Spirit coaches spent the past few days of practice convincing Saintel to be more offensive-minded.
“For us to be successful, Junior has to be an offensive threat for us at all times,” Spirit coach Jamie Gillespie said. “He responded over the last couple of days of practice and carried that over into the game, and going forward he needs to be a big part of our offensive scoring.”
Saintel was much more aggressive Tuesday than he was against Atlantic City and Shawnee. He caught another alley-oop pass from Moore for a dunk as the Spartans jumped to a 12-0 lead. Saintel drove the length of the court for a dunk toward the end of the first quarter.
Ninth-seeded Red Bank Catholic (15-10) appeared overmatched at times. Still, the Caseys recovered from Spirit’s fast start to take a 17-16 lead midway through the second quarter.
But the Spartans closed the first half with a 13-0 run to build a 12-point halftime lead.
Matt Sommers came off the bench to sink a 3-pointer during that stretch. Moore finished the spurt with a driving layup.
Spirit controlled the second half, leading by as many as 22 in the fourth quarter. Spartans freshman Leon Daniels sank a 3-pointer in the third quarter and finished with a game-high 15 points. Spirit sophomore Jordan Taylor contributed eight points and three steals.
“Those two kids (Daniels and Taylor) have been very consistent as of late,” Gillespie said, “and to be a freshman and sophomore doing that is a great thing from my perspective because we’re going to have those guys around for a long time.”
But before Spirit looks to the future, the Spartans have at least one game left this season. Notre Dame (24-3) won the Mercer County championship.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to play the No. 1 seed,” Gillespie said. “They’ve had a terrific year. They have a great team, but we’re going up there to win and move on.”
Contact Michael McGarry:
Red Bank Catholic 11 6 7 11—35
Holy Spirit 14 15 13 15—57
RBC—Hahn 5 0-0 12, Verdiglione 2 0-2 4, Flaherty 1 1-2 3, J. Montano 2 2-2 6, Drum 1 0-0 3, Nelson 2 1-9 5, T. Montano 1 0-0 2. Totals 14 4-15 35
HS—Daniels 5 4-4 15, Taylor 4 0-2 8, Middleton 0 2-2 2, Saintel 6 1-1 13, Moore 1 1-2 3, Rassman 1 0-0 2, Sommers 1 0-0 3, Midi 3 0-0 6, Barnes 1 0-0 3, Dixon 1 0-0 2. Totals 23 8-11 57.
3-pointers—Hahn (2); Drum RBC; Daniels, Sommers, Barnes HS
Records —RBC 15-10; Holy Spirit16-10