GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Jordan Robertson looked at the scoreboard at halftime of the Cape-Atlantic League boys basketball championship and didn’t quite believe what he saw.
Robertson and his Wildwood Catholic High School teammates led Atlantic City 26-10.
“I was surprised we (opened up) that lead,” the senior forward said. “We couldn’t have asked for anything more than that — 26 to 10 was really amazing.”
From there, things got even more amazing for Wildwood Catholic.
Fourth-seeded Wildwood Catholic dominated from the opening tip and beat third-seeded Atlantic City 61-33 at Richard Stockton College.
The victory gave the Crusaders their first CAL title since the league began its current stretch of championship contests in 1992.
“We’ve been looking for (a CAL title) for four years,” Crusaders senior forward Eddie McWade said. “We finally had the opportunity to get here, and we won.”
Robertson sank 10-of-18 shots and scored a game-high 25 points. McWade scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Wildwood Catholic outrebounded Atlantic City 39-28. The Crusaders seemed to beat the Vikings to every loose ball.
“Wildwood Catholic sucked the life out of us,” Atlantic City senior Isiah Graves said.
Fans crowded into Stockton’s gym for the game. It was not a surprise that Wildwood Catholic won. The Crusaders have won 13 straight and are No. 5 in The Press Elite 11. Atlantic City (18-7) is No. 9. Atlantic City had beaten Wildwood Catholic 44-41 in a game decided in the final minutes on the season’s first weekend in December.
But no one — not even the Crusaders themselves — expected Saturday’s game to be as lopsided as it was.
“We were pretty confident we were going to win the game,” Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese said, “but not in the way we did.”
Wildwood Catholic beat Atlantic City the way the Vikings usually defeat opponents — with intense man-to-man defense and unselfish offensive play. Atlantic City finished the game 12-of-52 from the field and 2-of-17 from 3-point range.
“Everybody talks about Atlantic City’s defense,” DeWeese said. “At our program, we have tried to emulate Atlantic City’s defense. Our defense was smothering in the first half.”
The Crusaders led 15-2 after the first quarter. Robertson scored the game’s first five points. He grabbed an offensive rebound and scored and sank a 3-pointer. Wildwood Catholic point guard George Cook, who rarely shoots, had a pair of layups in the first eight minutes.
“I think we frustrated (Atlantic City),” DeWeese said. “I think they thought we were going to play zone like we did in the first game. We made a decision (before the game) that we were going to attack (Atlantic City). We were going to go after them.”
Many in the crowd expected Atlantic City to rally in the second half. The Vikings have become famous for their second-half comebacks in big games the past three seasons.
But the Atlantic City surge never came. Instead, the Crusaders’ domination continued.
Wildwood Catholic began the second half with a 13-2 run to build a 39-12 lead with two minutes left in the third quarter. Robertson and McWade combined to score all of the Crusaders’ points during that stretch. McWade scored on a variety of inside moves and drives down the lane.
“They outcoached us,” Vikings coach Gene Allen said. “They outplayed us. I thought we would cut it to six by the end of the third quarter. It never happened and give them all the credit. I told our guys that this was (Wildwood Catholic’s) Super Bowl. We had to match their intensity from the tap. We did not do that and this is the result.”
What makes the championship even more special is that the Crusaders beat two quality teams — fifth-seeded Millville 55-54 in the quarterfinals and top-seeded Holy Spirit 58-54 in the semifinals — just to make it to Saturday’s game.
Before the CAL tournament began, some league fans doubted Wildwood Catholic. The Crusaders won the CAL United Division, which is considered the weakest of the league’s three divisions.
Wildwood Catholic had the resume of a No. 1 seed. Instead, the CAL basketball committee, which consists of several league athletic directors, seeded the Crusaders fourth.
“I have to thank the selection committee for putting us as the No. 4 seed,” DeWeese said. “That’s the best motivation our group could have had. We played three really good teams in the tournament and we beat them all. We deserve this.”
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