ABSECON - The St. Joseph High School girls basketball team played well in several close losses this season.
On Sunday, the Wildcats' fine play turned into a much-needed win.
The Wildcats played a stingy zone defense and beat Absegami 36-19 in a 97.3 ESPN Girls Basketball Shootout game at Holy Spirit. The victory gave St. Joe (7-4) a boost toward a berth in the Cape-Atlantic League tournament. Dana DiRenzo led St. Joe with nine points, while point guard Gabby Dudo sank 3-of-5 shots and scored seven points.
"We deserve to be there," St. Joe coach Dan McGettigan said. "This (win) will help us. I like the way these kids are playing. They're such great kids. We're really having a fun year."
The shootout annually features some of New Jersey's top teams. Absegami (8-3) and St. Joe are both in contention for a wild-card berth to the CAL tournament, which starts the last week in February.
This has been a frustrating season for the Wildcats. St. Joe beat Shawnee 37-36 on Dec. 22 but then lost some close games to CAL teams. St. Joe lost to Holy Spirit 50-35 on Jan. 4, 39-38 to Wildwood Catholic on Jan. 7 and 46-43 to Cedar Creek on Jan. 14.
Forward Shannon Metzler, a starter and one of the team's top players, hurt her knee during the loss to Holy Spirit and is probably out for the season. The Wildcats lost the first three games they played without Metzler.
But the Wildcats have now won four straight.
St. Joe controlled Sunday's game from the start. The Wildcats' zone was so effective that Absegami struggled to find open shots. The Braves finished 7-of-25 from the field. Absegami committed 22 turnovers and managed to take just 10 shots in the second half. McGettigan turned to his assistants several times during the game and noted how well the Wildcats were moving their feet on defense and how well they were defending the passing lines.
"We were talking on defense," DiRenzo said. "We played really well together. We have good chemistry."
Absegami sank 2-of-6 3-point attempts.
"Absegami is not one of those teams that lives by the 3-pointer," McGettigan said. "They didn't spread us out. We stayed packed in. If they weren't going to shoot the 3-pointer, we weren't going to give them anything inside."
Meanwhile, the Wildcats stayed patient on offense.
St. Joe outscored Absegami 10-0 during the first seven minutes of the second quarter to build a 20-7 halftime lead. Five Wildcats scored during that stretch.
St. Joe extended its lead to 20 points during the third quarter, and Absegami never challenged in the second half. Dudo, the St. Joe point guard, committed just two turnovers in 20 minutes.
"This was the most patient I've seen us been," McGettigan said. "I thought we made a lot of good decisions."
Contact Michael McGarry:
St. Joseph 10 10 9 7–36
Absegami 5 2 2 10 – 19
SJ-Donahue 1 0-0 2, Dudo 3 1-2 7, Kozachyn 1 1-2 3, DiRenzo 1 7-10 9, Nilson1 0-0 2, Welte 2 0-0 4, Hoerter1 1-2 3. Totals 13 10-16 36.
A-Sodaitis 5 0-2 10, Clarke 1 0-0 3, Pietropola 0 1-2 1, Schafer 0 1-3 1, Dolan 1 0-0 3, Gedeon 0 1-4 1. Totals 7 3-11 19.
3-pointers-Clarke, Dolan AB.
Records-Absegami 8-3; St. Joseph 7-4