NORTH WILDWOOD - The Holy Spirit High School boys basketball team waved its arms and made Wildwood Catholic's home-court advantage disappear Friday night.
Junior Saintel scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Spartans to a 51-45 win over Wildwood Catholic in a Cape-Atlantic League tournament quarterfinal. Fifth-seeded Spirit (15-8) will meet top-seeded Atlantic City (20-1) in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hammonton High School.
"Coming down to Wildwood Catholic and winning is no easy task," Spirit coach Jamie Gillespie said. "But I thought the court would play to our advantage."
Wildwood Catholic's gym is one of the tiniest in the CAL and resembles the one in the movie "Hoosiers." The Spartans mixed in a zone defense and a halfcourt trap that featured the 6-foot-4 Saintel, 6-3 John Midi, 6-2 Leon Daniels and 6-4 Jordan Taylor. When the Spartans stretched their arms, Wildwood Catholic had very little room to maneuver.
"We did a terrific job of bothering them all night," Gillespie said. "They were never comfortable. We went zone because of our length. We made a small court smaller. From my vantage point, it seemed like there was nowhere for them to go."
The Crusaders struggled for open shots. When they got open looks, they failed to convert. Wildwood Catholic (19-4) shot 0-for-5 from 3-point range in the first half and 3-for-14 for the game.
"They're big," Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese said. "Their theory was to take away (Crusaders forward Ed McWade) and clog the lane. They had a good game plan. The way to beat that is to hit some shots, and we didn't hit any shots in the first half."
Fans nearly filled Wildwood Catholic's gym for Friday's game, which was the most anticipated of the CAL tournament's four quarterfinals. The fourth-seeded Crusaders were anxious for a chance to prove themselves against a perennial CAL power.
Meanwhile, Spirit was looking to atone for a disappointing regular season. The Spartans feature a talented roster but failed to produce a signature regular-season win.
"It was a little frustrating we couldn't come up with the big wins we wanted to during the regular season," Saintel said. "But I think during playoff season we're going to step up and win the games we should be winning."
The way the Spartans played Friday, they are capable of beating anybody in the tournament.
Saintel showed why he is considered an NCAA Division I prospect.
"He played a big-time monster game in all aspects for us," Gillespie said. "Not only did he score, but he rebounded the ball. He was a pressure release for us (against Wildwood Catholic's press)."
Meanwhile, Spartans senior guard Paul Moore scored 11 points - six below his average - but he played a superb and under control floor game.
"I thought it was one of Moore's best games of the year," DeWeese said. "He distributed the basketball. He penetrated and dished off. He made his teammates better."
Spirit took a lead it never relinquished with an 11-0, second-quarter run that gave it a 20-8 advantage with 3 minutes, 19 seconds left in the first half.
Saintel began the run with a 3-point shot from the left corner. He added a steal and a layup and a jumper in the lane.
"I knew this was a big game in a big environment," Saintel said. "We had to play with desperation. It's playoff time."
Wildwood Catholic made a few runs in the second half behind the inside play of McWade (18 points, six rebounds) and Clinton Freeman (12 points).
The Crusaders twice cut Spirit's lead to five points during the third quarter. Each time, the Spartans quickly scored to push the lead back to seven.
Moore sank a jumper the first time. Saintel drove baseline for a layup on the second occasion.
The victory earned Spirit another chance against Atlantic City. The Vikings have beaten Spirit twice this season - 44-41 on Jan. 15 and 54-47 Tuesday.
"Anytime you have a chance to play in the (CAL) final four, it's a great thing regardless of who you're playing," Gillespie said. "The Atlantic City vs. Holy Spirit rivalry adds to it. We felt we were close in the first two games. We've got to be a little bit better Tuesday."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Holy Spirit 9 15 8 19-51
Wildwood Catholic 6 7 10 22-45
HS-Moore 5 1-1 11, Saintel 10 2-4 23, Midi 1 0-0 2, Middleton 2 1-2 5, Daniels 1 0-0 2, Taylor 4 0-2 8. Totals-23 4-9 51.
WC-E. McWade 7 4-6 18, Robertson 3 2-3 10, K. McWade 1 0-0 2, Freeman 5 2-4 12, Cook 0 0-2 0, Moretti 1 0-0 3. Totals-17 8-15 45.
3-pointers-Saintel HS; Robertson (2), Moretti WC.
Records-Holy Spirit 15-8; Wildwood Catholic 19-4.