EGG HARBOR CITY - The St. Joseph High School boys basketball team arrived at Cedar Creek feeling unsure of itself Tuesday night.
The Wildcats left with a win that restored their confidence and gave them a boost toward the postseason.
St. Joe dominated almost from the start and beat the Pirates 70-46 in a Cape-Atlantic League United Division game. St. Joe guard Charlie Riccardi scored 17 points, while forward Ben Mitchell contributed 16.
The Wildcats (6-2) had dropped two of their last three games, losing to Wildwood Catholic 53-42 last Tuesday and Vineland 66-55 last Saturday.
"This is a pivotal point in the season for us," St. Joe coach Tim Gallagher said. "We want to stay in the hunt for things."
Wildwood Catholic (7-3) is the favorite to win the United Division. The winner of St. Joe vs. Cedar Creek (8-2) could emerge as Catholic's primary challenger. The winner could also put itself in position to earn one of the United Division's two automatic berths in the CAL tournament.
Cedar Creek had established itself as a team to watch with an early-season win over perennial South Jersey power Willingboro.
St. Joe recommitted itself to defense the past few days. In between the losses to Wildwood Catholic and Vineland, St. Joe beat Bridgeton but allowed 71 points in the win.
"We're not going to win games playing defense like that," Gallagher said. "The last three games (St. Joe played) didn't turn out the way we wanted them to. It was good we were able to get after it on defense (on Tuesday)."
St. Joe played with energy from the start against Cedar Creek.
"Our plan was to play full-court defense," Gallagher said. "We wanted to play them one-on-one and not run-and-jump as much. On offense, we wanted to get the ball inside or go to the basket."
Riccardi and Mitchell each scored eight points in the first quarter as the Wildcats built a double-digit lead.
Mitchell scored in the lane to begin a 15-4 St. Joe run to end the first quarter. Riccardi followed with a 3-pointer and then Mitchell drove the lane for a layup.
"I just played hard," Mitchell said. "I tried to get my teammates involved, too. If I couldn't get to the basket, I passed. If I could get to the basket, I had to do what I had to do (to finish the shot)."
St. Joe led 20-10 after the first eight minutes.
"That fast start gave the team energy," Riccardi said. "Once we had a good start, it made us pick up our defense even more and have lot of effort out there."
The Wildcats held Cedar Creek to just two baskets in the second quarter.
St. Joe took complete control during a 32-second stretch in the second quarter. Forward LaQuay Brown (10 points) scored in the lane. Val Vadino followed that basket with a steal and a pass to Brown for a layup.
Ricardo Quirindongo then stole the ball and drove for a layup to put the Wildcats up 28-13 with 4 minutes, 34 seconds left in the first half. St. Joe's lead would never again dip below 14 points. The Wildcats led by as many 29 in the second half.
Cedar Creek must quickly regroup. The Pirates host Wildwood Catholic on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats learned their fate is most likely tied to how well they defend.
"I think Cedar Creek is a good team," Gallagher said. "They've beaten everybody they've should have beaten. We can defend other teams (like the Wildcats defended Tuesday). That's been our point of emphasis."
Contact Michael McGarry:
St. Joseph 20 18 17 15 - 70
Cedar Creek 10 7 13 16 - 46
SJ -Totals 27 13-14 70.CK -Totals 13 18-26.3-pointers Records