PLEASANTVILLE - The early-season schedule gave the Sacred Heart High School boys basketball team the chance for an eye-opening start.
The Lions have made the most of the opportunity.
Sophomore center Michael Holloway scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as Sacred Heart beat Pleasantville 45-38 in a Cape-Atlantic League United Division game Thursday night.
Sacred Heart (3-1), which has struggled for years, now leads the division with a 3-0 record. The Lions' only loss was out of the league to perennial South Jersey power Haddonfield.
"When the schedule came out, this was our goal," Sacred Heart coach Kevin Nash said. "We wanted to get those three (division wins). The kids have done a phenomenal job."
Pleasantville (2-1), like Sacred Heart, entered Thursday's game with some early-season momentum. The Greyhounds won their first two contests.
But Sacred Heart controlled Thursday's game from the start despite playing without junior swingman Chris Burch, who injured his ankle in gym class Thursday afternoon. Burch averages 13 points per game.
Sacred Heart took the lead for good when freshman guard Tyler Lunsford (15 points) sank back-to-back 3-pointers in the second quarter to put Sacred Heart up 19-13 with 3 minutes, 13 seconds left in the first half.
Pleasantville struggled to defend the 6-foot-6 Holloway, who scored all of his points in the lane.
"I posted up hard," Holloway said. "I just sat on the block and when I got the ball I scored."
Holloway also played a key role in helping Sacred Heart alleviate Pleasantville's defensive pressure. Sacred Heart ball handlers who were trapped were able to lob the ball to Holloway in the middle of the floor.
"It's very hectic playing against Pleasantville," Holloway said. "But we looked (at their defense) on film. We knew it was coming and we were prepared for it. We had to stay out of the corners and keep the ball in the middle of the floor."
Holloway was also a defensive force inside with three blocked shots.
"When Michael plays hard, I think he's not only one of the best players in the Cape (Atlantic League) but also in South Jersey," Nash said.
Pleasantville stayed close behind the efforts of 6-3 forward Neil Peters (21 points, 13 rebounds). But Peters is one of Pleasantville's few veterans. Pleasantville forced Sacred Heart into 26 turnovers, but the inexperienced Greyhounds couldn't convert those miscues into points. Pleasantville for years has used its harassing defense to create offense.
"We got plenty off turnovers but then we gave the ball right back by making bad decisions with the ball," Pleasantville coach Kenny Johnson said. "We were doing the first part (forcing turnovers), but we have to do the second part and that is to score."
Pleasantville never got closer than five points in the second half.
Lunsford helped the Lions stave off a potential Greyhounds comeback in the fourth quarter. He sank two foul shots and then made a fast-break layup. He was fouled and sank the free throw to put the Lions up 39-29 with 4:58 left in the game.
The impressive start makes Sacred Heart a team to watch the rest of the season.
"This is great," Holloway said of the Lions' start. "We wanted teams chasing us for the division. We didn't want to be chasing them."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Sacred Heart 9 14 9 13 – 45
Pleasantville 6 9 11 12 – 38
SH-Holloway 9 1-2 19, Lungu 0 2-3 2, Lunsford 4 4-7 15, Loatman 1 0-0 2, Lee-Williams 0 7-8 7. Totals 14 14-20 45.
P-Calloway 1 1-2 3, Savage 1 0-0 3, Handy 2 0-0 5, Peters 8 4-6 21, Brown 0 1-4 1, Gomez 2 1-1 5. Totals 14 7-13 38.
3-pointers- Lunsford (3) SH; Handy, Savage, Peters P.
Records-Sacred Heart 3-1; Pleasantville 2-1