Coach Dave DeWeese of the Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team didn't give the Crusaders a chance to sulk over their Cape-Atlantic League tournament seed.
The CAL released its tournament seedings Thursday morning. The Crusaders were No. 4 in the eight-team field. They thought they should have been seeded higher.
DeWeese spoke with the Crusaders when they boarded a bus right after school Thursday afternoon for an away game at Buena Regional.
"We weren't happy. We were surprised," DeWeese said of the seeding. "But I think it worked to our benefit. We are highly motivated to prove that they were wrong with where they put us. Before the bus even left the school, we talked about it. All our kids were pretty fired up."
The CAL tournament begins tonight with boys and girls quarterfinal games. As a result of its No. 4 seed, Wildwood Catholic (19-4) hosts fifth-seeded Millville (17-4), a talented team coming off an upset win over second-seeded St. Augustine Prep last Friday.
"We have a very difficult task ahead of us," DeWeese said. "But you have to win three games against three very good teams to win a Cape-Atlantic League title. We're going to take them one at a time."
A committee of CAL athletic directors seeded the teams Thursday morning. The committee looked at a number of factors, including overall record, power points, head-to-head competition, common opponents and nonleague schedules, according to CAL president and Mainland Regional athletic director Mike Gatley.
Wildwood Catholic could have made a compelling case for a higher seed.
The Crusaders have won 10 straight games. They beat top-seeded Holy Spirit 48-45 on Feb. 1. Wildwood Catholic has impressive nonleague wins over Schalick (20-3) and Archbishop Wood (9-11), a Pennsylvania school that plays a difficult schedule. The Crusaders did lose to third-seeded Atlantic City 44-41 on the opening weekend of the season.
Wildwood Catholic athletic director Sal Zuccarello told the Crusaders about their seeding during lunch Thursday.
"We all sit at the same table," senior forward Eddie McWade said. "We were upset, but we didn't dwell on it. It doesn't really matter. We just have a lot more to prove to people."
In Millville, Wildwood Catholic faces one of the more underrated teams in South Jersey. The senior-dominated Thunderbolts are 26-7 in their last 33 games dating to last season.
"Millville plays very hard," DeWeese said. "They find ways to win at the end of games. They're a big fourth-quarter team. We have to keep them off the offensive glass. They are relentless on the offensive glass."
Wildwood Catholic previously has been in this position. The Crusaders hosted first-round CAL tournament games in 2012 and 2013. They lost both contests.
"I don't think we're feeling any extra pressure," DeWeese said. "Our group has worked very hard to get to this point. They've played a lot of good teams and had success. We experienced success against good teams, and we're hopeful that experience is going to benefit us (tonight)."
This is the third season for the CAL tournament. It quickly has become one of the premier events of the high school sports season.
"This tournament is giving our league a great deal of exposure because it's being talked about so much," DeWeese said. "It provides a great basketball atmosphere for these kids."
The state basketball playoffs start March 3. But right now the focus is on the CAL tournament. One of the best things about high school sports is the chance for teams from neighboring communities to compete against each other. Sometimes it can be just as important to be the best team in a town, county or league as it is to be the best in the state.
"No other team in Wildwood Catholic history has won the Cape-Atlantic League," McWade said. "We want to be the first."
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