HAMMONTON - Tashad Reynolds is known primarily as a defensive specialist for the Atlantic City High School boys basketball team.
He added offense to his repertoire in a Cape-Atlantic League tournament semifinal game against St. Augustine Prep on Thursday.
The senior point guard scored a career-high 22 points to help the Vikings beat the Hermits 65-60 at Hammonton High School.
"I was playing mostly because of my defense," Reynolds said. "The offensive part just came to me. (St. Augustine) backed off against me, so I took the shots when I had them."
The Vikings (18-6) reached the CAL tournament final for the third straight year. They will try to win their third straight title when they face Wildwood Catholic on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township.
This trip to the final was somewhat surprising to some, considering the Vikings returned just two starters - senior guard Isaiah Graves and forward Dennis White - from the team that won its second straight state Group IV title last season.
"We're very excited (to be playing for the CAL title again)," Vikings coach Gene Allen said. "This one means a little more than the first two because there were a lot of doubts about us from all the naysayers out there."
Atlantic City prevailed Thursday in an intense, thrilling game that wasn't decided until the final seconds.
Fans of both teams filled the bleachers and watched the Vikings and Hermits stage one of the year's best games. The Vikings seemed headed for a comfortable win when Reynolds' coast-to-coast layup gave them a 55-43 lead halfway through the fourth quarter.
But St. Augustine (20-4) refused to wilt.
The Hermits kept charging and cut Atlantic City's lead to two points at 62-60 on Brian Seward's jumper with 21.6 seconds remaining in regulation.
Then White atoned for a mistake with a big play.
The Hermits had a chance to at least tie the game after White missed two foul shots, including an air ball on the second attempt with 20 seconds left. But instead of sulking, White refocused and drew a charging foul with 15 seconds left.
"For Dennis to do what he did (missing the free throws) and then to come back and get that big charge says a lot about him and this team," Allen said. "This team always finds a way to get it done in big games. They seem to always get it this time of year."
The Vikings are known for their clutch performances.
Since the 2011-12 season, they are 21-2 in elimination games. The Vikings are 7-0 in the CAL tournament in that span, 12-0 in the state Group IV tournament and 2-2 in the Tournament of Champions.
In addition to Reynolds and White, junior guard Lamar Thomas and Graves helped them extend that streak of success against the Hermits. Thomas scored seven points in the third quarter, including a 3-pointer from well behind the line, while the Vikings built their big lead.
Graves scored 15 of his 22 points in the second half and grabbed a game-high seven rebounds.
"The bigger the game, the better I play," Graves said. "I've always been that way, ever since I was a little kid. Big crowds, big atmosphere, I just love it. I always have."
St. Augustine also received its share of impressive efforts, however, especially in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore guard Sa'eed Nelson had trouble generating some offense in the first half against Reynolds' suffocating defense, but continued to work and scored 12 of his team-high 18 points in the second half before fouling out with 52.1 seconds left. Senior guard Nate Segal added 16 points and freshman forward Justyn Mutts 10. Sophomore center Mike Vasturia sank a key jumper during the Hermits' late rally.
The Hermits were eliminated for the third straight year in the CAL semifinals.
"I was proud of the way we came back and played hard for the last three minutes," Hermits coach Paul Rodio said. "Atlantic City had a good third quarter. They sensed the dead carcass, so to speak. But we took their shot and kept trying to fight. But in order to win big games, you have to make plays down the stretch, and we didn't make one.
"This hurts. We've been here three years in a row and didn't get it done. You hope you learn from these kinds of games, but it still hurts to lose, regardless of how young we are."
Contact David Weinberg:
Atlantic City 13 13 21 18-65
St. Augustine 11 12 16 21-60
AC-Graves 6 9-12 22, Allen 2 3-4 7, White 2 0-2 4, Thomas 3 0-0 7, Reynolds 7 7-9 22, Prevard 1 0-1 3. Totals 21 19-28 65.
SA-Nelson 5 8-9 18, Kennedy 2 0-0 4, Segal 5 6-7 16, Corbo 0 0-0 0, Vasturia 4 0-0 8, Mutts 4 2-2 10, Seward 2 0-1 4. Totals 22 16-19 60.
3-pointers: Graves, Thomas, Reynolds, Prevard AC.
RECORDS: Atlantic City 18-6; St. Augustine 20-4.