ABSECON - When he was growing up in Egg Harbor Township, Dave Sullivan and his friends always would finish their pickup basketball games by chucking shots from half-court while an imaginary buzzer sounded.
That experience came in handy for the St. Augustine Prep senior forward Saturday afternoon.
Sullivan swished a 3-pointer from midcourt to end the first half of the Hermits' game against host Holy Spirit High School. The shot put a sudden end to a Holy Spirit rally and served as the start of a surge that carried St. Augustine to a 61-45 victory in a Cape-Atlantic League interdivisional game.
"I don't get a chance to practice shots like that very often," Sullivan said with a laugh. "Those kind of shots are something you do when you're a kid just messing around."
His basket wound up being the turning point in a game featuring two of the CAL's top programs. Fans from both schools packed Holy Spirit's gym, including about 30 members of the Hermits' famous cheering section known as the "Richland Rowdies."
The rivalry is also big among the players, several of whom are neighbors and AAU teammates.
"I played on the same AAU team with (Holy Spirit standouts) Junior (Santiel) and Paul (Moore) two years ago," said Hermits guard Mike Greenman, who lives in Linwood. "We all know each other."
Holy Spirit (6-6), which suffered its fourth straight loss and is No. 11 in The Press Elite 11, looked like it might be able to end its slump late in the first half. Moore, who came off the bench to score a game-high 27 points, scored four points and then fed junior forward John Medi for a layup that cut the Hermits' lead to 25-24 with four seconds left in the first half.
Sullivan swung the momentum back to St. Augustine when he grabbed a pass from Greenman, who led the Hermits with 20 points. Sullivan took two quick dribbles and launched a waist-high shot that nearly kissed the gym rafters before dropping through the net as the buzzer sounded.
The Rowdies and the rest of the Hermits' supporters roared while Holy Spirit's fans sat in stunned silence and its players walked slowly toward the locker room for intermission.
"I looked up at the clock as soon as (Medi) laid it in and I saw there were four seconds left, so I knew we would have time to get off a shot," Sullivan said. "Mike got the ball to me, I took a quick glance at the scoreboard and I just let it go."
The basket provided a spark for the Hermits (11-1) that carried over into the third quarter.
They scored the first nine points during an 11-1 run and wound up outscoring the Spartans (6-6) 17-5 in the quarter to take command of the game at 45-29.
"Those kind of shots happen," Holy Spirit coach Jamie Gillespie said. "We were still only down four points at the half. But when they made another run, we didn't respond offensively or defensively.
"We played well in stretches, but we've yet to play 32 minutes of basketball this season. That's why we've lost four in a row and we're 6-6. We're essentially through the first half of our season now and we've got to look at the second half as a fresh start. But our main goal now is to just get a win. We have to find a way to win a game and then take it from there."
Conversely, St. Augustine is on a roll.
The Hermits, No. 5 in the Elite 11, have won nine straight since suffering a 67-47 loss to No. 3 Middle Township on Dec. 18. The Hermits face the Panthers again on Friday.
"The team has really come together over the last month," Hermits coach Paul Rodio said after his 759th career victory. "The kids played well and played hard today against a very good Holy Spirit team.
"Holy Spirit is a good team and Jamie is not just a good coach; he's an excellent coach. Every coach goes through rough stretches. I remember two years ago we were 7-5 and were trailing Absegami by 20 points at halftime. We came back and won that game and wound up winning 17 in a row. Sometimes all you need is to get that one win and things start turning around."
Contact David Weinberg:
St. Augustine 13 15 17 16-61
Holy Spirit 7 17 5 16-45
SA-Greenman 6 6-7 20, Sullivan 4 0-0 9, Gatto 3 0-0 6, Rousell 3 5-5 11, Vasturia 4 0-2 8, A. Nelson 1 0-0 2, Seward 1 3-4 5. Totals 22 14-18 61.
HS-Daniels 1 0-1 2, Santiel 1 0-0 2, Midi 1 1-2 3, Barnes 2 0-1 5, Moore 10 4-6 27, Middleton 1 0-2 2, Jones 1 0-0 2, Sommers 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 5-12 45.
3-point goals-Greenman (2), Sullivan SA; Moore (3), Barnes HS.
RECORDS- St. Augustine 11-1; Holy Spirit 6-6.