NORTH WILDWOOD - Clinton Freeman admitted he and the rest of the Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team felt jitters opening night.
Freeman and teammates looked completely comfortable Tuesday night.
Wildwood Catholic dominated from the start and beat Sacred Heart 58-32 in a Cape-Atlantic League United Division game. The Crusaders (12-1) have won 12 straight since a 60-54 opening night loss to Sacred Heart on Dec. 14. Wildwood Catholic now leads the division.
Freeman was one of several new players in the Crusaders' rotation when the season began.
"It feels like we're more of a family now," Freeman said. "Instead of a team we're more like brothers. I was real nervous (the first game), but (Tuesday) we were ready to go."
Junior forward Ed McWade led Wildwood Catholic with 25 points. The 6-foot-4 Freeman scored 11 of his 12 points in the first half and finished the game with seven rebounds and two blocks. The Crusaders are No. 10 in The Press Elite 11, but Tuesday's win gave them even more credibility.
"I think while we had won 11 games in a row, people were saying, 'They won 11 in a row but they lost to Sacred Heart,' " Crusaders coach Dave DeWeese said. "We've erased that from the book."
The two teams came into the game tied for first place in the United Division.
"We were probably the most pumped up we've been this year coming out of the locker room," McWade said.
Wildwood Catholic scored the games first nine points. Guard Kevin McWade - Ed's sophomore brother - scored the game's first basket on a driving layup. Point guard George Cook then scored the next two baskets for his only points of the game.
Ed McWade and Freeman sparked the Crusaders from there.
Twice in the first quarter, Freeman pumped faked his defender into the air and then drove for a layup.
"The coaches always tell me to pump-fake," Freeman said. "It worked. We were on it all the time in practice."
The 6-4 McWade displayed a versatile offensive game. He scored inside and his 3-pointer from the top of the key gave the Crusaders a 28-8 lead with 3 minutes, 44 seconds left in the first quarter.
"I just flashed to the open spot," McWade said. "All our guys can dribble (penetrate). They have to be stopped in the lane (by help defenders), so I just get to the open spot."
Sacred Heart struggled for open shots against the Crusaders' defense. The Lions finished the first half with 12 points.
"We gotten a lot better, particularly on the defensive end of the floor," DeWeese said. "Our defense is dictating games for us now."
Sacred Heart (8-7) never challenged the Crusaders. The Lions went on 12-2 second-half run to cut the to 18 with just under seven minutes to play.
But Wildwood Catholic quickly regained control and Jordan Robertson caused the crowd to roar when he stole the ball at halfcourt and drove for a two-handed dunk that gave the Crusaders a 25-point lead with 4:18 left.
"That was our motto going in - don't take your foot off the gas," DeWeese said. "We're going to keep playing defensse for 32 minutes and keep attacking the basket for 32 minutes."
What Tuesday showed is that Wildwood Catholic is clearly not the same team it was on opening night. The Crusaders - who are mostly juniors- began the season as a talented but somewhat inexperienced group.
"To our players' credit, they've all gotten better in the last 40 or 45 days," DeWeese said. "There isn't one player that hasn't gotten better and that's because they're just working hard every single day."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Sacred Heart 4 8 13 7-32
Wildwood Catholic 16 18 12 12- 58
SH-Lee-Williams 2 0-0 4, Burch 4 0-2 8, Lunsford 1 0-0 2, Holloway 2 2-2 6, Lungu 0 0-1 0, Tobolski 1 0-0 2, DeRossi 3 0-0 8, Veltman 1 0-0 2. Totals 14 2-4 32
WC-K. McWade 2 0-1 5, Robertson 2 5-7 9, E. McWade 8 8-10 25, Cook 2 0-0 4, Freeman 4 4-6 12, Norris 1 1-2 3. Totals 19 18-26 58
3-pointers-SH. DeRossi (2); WC. E. McWade, K. McWade
Records-Sacred Heart 8-7; Wildwood Catholic 12-1