LINWOOD - The Holy Spirit High School boys basketball team gave just a glimpse of its potential Friday night.
The Spartans struggled on offense but dominated on defense and beat Mainland Regional 51-29 in the season opener for both Cape-Atlantic League American Division teams. Spirit shutout Mainland in the first quarter. The Spartans are No. 5 in The Press Elite 11.
"I thought our effort defensively was excellent," Spirit coach Jamie Gillespie said. "Offensively, we were out of sync. We just weren't comfortable offensively. The one thing we've preached on nights like tonight is your defense can win the game, and I think that's what happened."
Spirit's top two players - forward Junior Saintel and guard John Middleton - typified how Spirit played.
Saintel scored just four points but he grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked four shots. Middleton (11 points) sank two early jumpers but sat most of the game in foul trouble.
"I think we were moving a bit too fast," Saintel said. "We had opening-night jitters. I think this is a good sign. We didn't have our best offensive night, but we still played defense and won the game."
Fans packed the bleachers in Mainland's gym for the season opener. Spirit finished a disappointing 16-11 last season, but has the talent to be one of South Jersey's best this season.
Mainland Regional is expected to contend for a spot in the CAL tournament behind the inside play of 6-foot-5 Darius Jerkins and 6-3 Kenny Randall.
Both teams started slowly. Spirit went 0-for-9 from the foul line in the first quarter and finished the game 7-for-18 from the foul line.
Despite its offensive troubles, Mainland Regional never really challenged Spirit.
The Spartans never trailed and led 9-0 after the first quarter. Spartans guard Uuhmad Collier sank a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 14 seconds left in the second quarter to put Spirit up 19-2. The lead never again dipped below double digits.
Spirit had flashes of offensive success. Sophomore forward Leon Daniels scored seven of his team-high 12 points during a two-minute spurt in the second quarter. Collier sank back-to-back 3-pointers in the second quarter. Jordan Taylor sank a 3-pointer and scored on a driving layup in the third quarter.
"My teammates were driving, kicking the ball to me, and I was able to hit the open shots," Daniels said.
Spirit protected its lead with defense. The Spartans are long and rangy. They start a lineup that features the 6-6 Saintel, the 6-5 Taylor and the 6-4 Daniels. Mainland didn't get its first field goal until guard Drew Dalzell sank a 3-pointer with 6:44 left in the first half.
"Spirit plays well, arms up. It makes (the court) look like such a confined area," Williams said. "Five guys who are rangy like that looks like 15."
Spirit returns to the court at 3:30 p.m. today to play Pleasantville in an Ocean City PBA Tipoff Weekend game at Ocean City High School.
"It's early in the year and like everybody, we're a work in progress," Gillespie said. "It will come together in time."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Holy Spirit 9 15 17 10 – 51
Mainland Regional 0 11 8 10 – 29
HS – Saintel 2 0-4 4, Middleton 5 0-0 11, Taylor 2 0-0 5, Daniels 4 2-5 12, Sommers 0 2-2 2, Collier 2 0-3 6, Barnes 2 1-2 5, Jones 1 0-0 2, Marczyk 1 2-2 4. Totals 19 7-18 51
ML – Jackson 0 2-4 2, Dalzell 2 0-0 6, Randall 0 2-4 2, Jerkins 2 6-10 10, Riska 2 1-1 6, McLaughlin 0 1-3 1, Kleva 1 0-0 2. Totals 7 12-22 29.
3-pointers – Middleton, Taylor, Daniels (2), Collier (2) HS; Dalzell (2), Riska ML.
Records – Holy Spirit 1-0; Mainland Regional 0-1