STAFFORD TOWNSHIP - Mike Gesicki ditched his white headband at halftime Monday night.
The wardrobe change worked.
The junior scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half to spark Southern Regional High School to a 59-54 win over Williamstown in the first round of the South Jersey Group IV boys basketball playoffs. The eighth-seeded Rams (17-9) will play at top-seeded Atlantic City in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
"I'm a pretty superstitious guy," Gesicki said. "If I'm not playing well in the first half with the white headband, I have a black headband I wear. But (Monday) I was like, 'You know what? Forget the headband. Just go play basketball.' "
Southern dominated most of the second half. The Rams began the third quarter with 9-0 run to turn a one-point halftime deficit into a 30-22 lead with 4 minutes, 21 seconds left in the third quarter. They never trailed again.
Gesicki scored the first two baskets of that run - both in the lane.
He was a force inside the rest of the way. Gesicki also finished with seven rebounds, four blocks and three steals.
"My teammates kept telling me it would come," Gesicki said. "I was calm. I was patient. Finally, I got the ball inside. That got me going. I'm all about emotion and adrenalin, and when I was finally able to get it going, I just kept it rolling."
Fans nearly filled Southern's gym Monday. The Rams have had a frustrating history against ninth-seeded Williamstown (17-10).
The Braves beat Southern in the first round of the S.J. Group IV playoffs last season. Williamstown also beat the Rams football team in the S.J. Group V final last December.
Southern struggled in the first half Wednesday. Gesicki made just one basket in the first two quarters, and Williamstown led 20-12 halfway through the second quarter.
Southern swingman Jake Logue (14 points) then sank back-to-back 3-pointers to rally the Rams.
The Rams also got a strong first half from Zach Policastro, who scored nine of his 17 points in the first two quarters.
Logue's and Policastro's scoring allowed Southern to survive Gesicki's poor start.
"That's been our formula for success all season," Southern coach Eric Fierro said. "Those two shooters (Logue and Policastro) balancing out our game inside.
The Rams led by as many 15 in the second half. Southern weathered four Williamstown 3-pointers in the final 3:13 to hold on for the win.
The Rams are underdogs Wednesday, but they are looking forward to the game. Atlantic City (24-1) is the defending state Group IV champion and ranked No. 1 in The Press Elite 11. The Vikings beat Toms River South 67-43 in Monday's first round.
Southern and Atlantic City have played several times in the postseason through the years. Fierro was a sophomore on the Southern team that lost to Atlantic City in the 1997 S.J. Group IV final.
"We couldn't be more excited to have the opportunity to play one of the top teams in the state," Fierro said. "It's a great measuring stick for us. That's what this time of year is for. Our mantra has been, 'We're feeling lucky. Let's make it to Atlantic City.' "
Contact Michael McGarry:
Williamstown 14 8 7 25-54
Southern 12 9 17 21-59
W-Booth 0 1-2 1, Kendall 4 1-2 9, Okusi 4 2-2 10, Boyce 3 1-2 8, Rose 1 0-0 3, Estrada 2 1-2 5, Convery 6 0-0 18. Totals 20 6-10 54.
SR-Halliday 1 2-4 4, Logue 5 2-4 14, Speziale 1 2-4 4, Policastro 6 4-6 17, Gesicki 7 6-12 20. Totals 20 16-30 59.
3-pointers-W, Convery (6), Boyce, Rose. SR, Logue (2), Policastro.
Records: Williamstown 17-10; Southern 17-9
© 2016 pressofAtlanticCity.com