GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - The Atlantic City High School boys basketball team searched for offense Saturday afternoon.
As usual, Dayshawn Reynolds found what the Vikings needed in himself.
The senior guard scored a season-high 23 points as Atlantic City rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Middle Township 57-51 to win the Cape-Atlantic League championship at Richard Stockton College.
Atlantic City (23-1) has won two straight and nine CAL championships overall since the league began to play title games in 1992.
Reynolds sank 4-of-5 3-point attempts and 7-of-8 foul shots. His offensive output came just one game after he scored just one point in a 47-35 CAL semifinal win over Holy Spirit last Tuesday.
"I don't care if I score one or 30 as long as we win," Reynolds said.
A lot of players make statements like that, but Reynolds seems to mean it. He appears to just want to do whatever the Vikings need for a win. Reynolds doesn't have to score to affect a game. He is one of the state's best defensive players.
In addition to his points, Reynolds grabbed six rebounds and had four steals Saturday. In the second half, Middle coach Tom Feraco shouted to his players that Reynolds was taking over the game.
Still, the Vikings trailed 40-38 with 5 minutes, 13 seconds left in the game. Atlantic City then took control with a 15-2 run that gave it an 11-point lead with less than a minute left. Reynolds began the run with a breakaway layup. His steal and two-handed dunk with 3:56 remaining in the game gave the Vikings a lead they never relinquished.
"Dayshawn was huge but that's who he is," Atlantic City coach Gene Allen said. "He makes plays at the most critical point in the game and he did it again (Saturday)."
Fans packed Stockton's gym to watch Saturday's final. Atlantic City is No. 1 in The Press Elite 11, while Middle is No. 9. The teams met in last year's CAL final with Atlantic City winning 40-37. The Vikings also won a Jan. 3 regular-season meeting between the schools 58-39
Middle (19-6) appeared headed for the upset Saturday. But Reynolds twice rallied the Vikings.
The first time came in the third quarter.
A jump shot by Middle guard Tom Catanoso hung on the rim and then fell in to give the Panthers a 28-23 lead midway through the third quarter. Those are the types of shots teams that pull upsets make.
But Reynolds then sank two 3-pointers as the Vikings closed the quarter with an 11-4 run to build a two-point lead.
"I thought I wasn't aggressive on offense in the first half," Reynolds said. "We weren't scoring that many points, so I had to step up. It was just a day I was feeling it."
Middle again had the momentum and the lead in the fourth quarter. Middle forward Tom Feraco - the coach's son - sank four straight foul shots to put the Panthers up two with a little more than five minutes left in the game.
Reynolds again rescued the Vikings with back-to-back baskets, including the go-ahead steal and a dunk. Reserve guard Tashad Reynolds, Dayshawn's cousin, grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to put the Vikings up 44-40 with 3:30 left.
Ga-briel Chandler (10 points, six rebounds) followed Tashad's basket with two foul shots and a layup to give the Vikings a 48-40 lead with 2:28 left. The Panthers never got closer than six points the rest of the way.
Middle concentrated on stopping Atlantic City's inside game, but the Vikings countered that by making 6-of-9 3-point shots. Atlantic City got key minutes off the bench from freshman Lamar Thomas, who sank a 3-pointer and scored five points.
Middle forced some shots on some pivotal fourth-quarter possessions. The Panthers went five minutes without a field goal in the fourth quarter.
"We need to be smarter at crunch time," Middle coach Tom Feraco said. "But Reynolds is special. It's his leadership. It's his ability to guard. "
The Vikings posed for a team photo with the CAL trophy after the game. Atlantic City begins defense of its state Group IV title when it hosts Toms River South in a South Jersey Group IV first-round game Monday.
Allen, however, didn't want the Vikings to look past Saturday's game. He wanted them to relish the CAL title.
"I told the kids in the locker room (before the game) to savor the moment," Allen said. "Every player in the CAL wanted to be in this game. I hope we're (enjoying) the moment, especially the seniors."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Middle Township 10 8 16 17- 51
Atlantic City 8 14 14 21-57
MT-Shelton 3 7-9 14, Catanoso 2 0-0 5, Feraco 4 5-5 13, Greer 2 2-2 8, Moore 2 0-1 4, Cowan 2 3-5 7. Totals 15 17-22 51
AC-Graves 2 1-2 6, White 2 0-0 4, D. Reynolds 6 7-8 23, Montague 2 1-8 5, Chandler 4 2-2 10, T. reynolds 1 2-2 4, Thomas 2 0-0 5. Totals 19 13-22 57
3-pointers - MT. Greer (2), Shelton, Catanoso; AC. D. Reynolds (4), Graves, Thomas
Records - Middle Township 19-6; Atlantic City 23-1.