There will be no surprises at the Cape-Atlantic League boys basketball tournament semifinals tonight.
The teams involved know each other well. The semifinals at Hammonton High School feature two of the region's best rivalries.
Second-seeded Middle Township (18-5) will meet third-seeded St. Augustine Prep (20-4) at 5 p.m. Top-seeded Atlantic City (21-1) will face fifth-seeded Holy Spirit (15-9) at 7 p.m. Each game will be the third time the teams have met this season. Tonight's winners advance to the title game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township.
"What greater two-game tournament could the CAL ask for than two of the huge rivalries that exist (in the league)?" Middle coach Tom Feraco said.
It's tough to win a tournament game. It's even tougher against a rival that is familiar with its opponent's plays, strengths and weaknesses.
"It's hard anytime you play a team three times," Feraco said. "We're all playing teams that want to beat each other bad. The rivalry games these teams have played have been determined on the last possession of the ball."
Middle Township and St. Augustine Prep have been involved in classic games with each other since the 1980s. The teams are among the state's best programs. St. Augustine has won four state titles under coach Paul Rodio, while Feraco has led Middle to three state championships. Middle is ranked No. 9 in The Press Elite 11, while St. Augustine is No. 10.
Middle beat St. Augustine 50-49 in last year's semifinals on guard Tom Catanoso's jumper with 1.8 seconds left.
The teams split their two meetings this season.
Middle won 67-47 in Cape May Court House on Dec. 18. St. Augustine won 63-61 at home in overtime on Jan. 25. The teams have met five times since January 2012 with Middle holding a 3-2 edge. Three of the five games have been decided by no more than two points.
Meanwhile, Atlantic City has the unenviable task of trying to beat a talented Holy Spirit team for the third time this season. Atlantic City is the defending state Group IV champion and No. 1 in the Elite 11.
The Vikings beat Spirit 44-41 at home on Jan. 15 and 54-47 at Spirit on Feb. 12.
Spirit played one of its best games of the season in beating fourth-seeded Wildwood Catholic 51-45 in last Friday's quarterfinals.
Many of the Atlantic City and Holy Spirit players grow up knowing each other. Vikings coach Gene Allen epitomizes how intertwined the schools are. He's a Holy Spirit graduate.
"It's a real big rivalry and it's getting even better," Atlantic City senior guard Dayshawn Reynolds said. "Holy Spirit is a great team and they always come to play against us."
Tournament games are emotional contests. The fact that both games feature rivalries only adds to the intensity.
"We have to stay focused," Reynolds said. "We know they're going to go on runs. We know the guys over there. They know us well. It's going to be a good game."
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