HAMMONTON — Bleachers weren’t needed during Tuesday’s Cape-Atlantic League boys basketball tournament semifinal between Middle Township High School and St. Augustine Prep.
A near-capacity crowd at Hammonton stood throughout and student cheering sections roared until they were hoarse during an intense, thrilling game that ended with Middle advancing with a 51-40 victory in double overtime.
The Panthers (20-5), ranked No. 9 in The Press Elite 11, will take on defending champion and top-ranked Atlantic City for the second straight year on Saturday at Richard Stockton College. The Vikings defeated Holy Spirit 47-35 in the other semifinal Tuesday.
“It felt great just to be a part of something like that,” Middle guard Tom Catanoso said. “It’s a big rivalry and the fans really came out to support us. I love to play in games like that.”
The game was filled with memorable plays. Catanoso and Middle teammates LaMarr Greer and Darrell Shelton ignored the pressure to hit big shots in crucial situations.
St. Augustine, No. 10 in the Elite 11, set up the late-game heroics with a terrific defensive effort in the second half of regulation that helped the Hermits erase a six-point halftime deficit. Middle scored just 12 total points in the third and fourth quarters.
“The way we played in the second half was as good a defensive performance as I’ve seen from us in my 25 years here,” Hermits coach Paul Rodio said. “But it was a great effort by both teams. I told our kids after the game that the result wasn’t what we wanted, but it was still a great game to be a part of.”
Both teams had a chance to win at the end of regulation and the first overtime.
The Panthers appeared headed for a victory when Shelton nailed a 3-pointer with 24 seconds left in regulation. While the Panthers’ fans celebrated, Mike Greenman answered for the Hermits with a 3-pointer at the nine-second mark that put St. Augustine up 36-35.
Greer was fouled with 1.2 seconds to go and his first free throw caromed off the rim. But with the Richland Rowdies screaming, he made the second attempt to force overtime.
“I was a little nervous when I first got to the line and then missed,” Greer said. “But my teammates had my back. They calmed me down and I was fine after that.”
More drama unfolded at the end of the first overtime.
The Hermits appeared headed for the final when Greenman came up with a steal that produced Joe Gatto’s thunderous dunk that put St. Augustine in front at 38-36 with 15 seconds remaining. Shelton slashed through St. Augustine’s defense and converted a drive with four seconds to go that tied it again at 38-38.
“Man, that was wild,” Shelton said. “That play definitely wasn’t planned. As soon as they made that dunk, I just tried to get myself open and as soon as the ball came my way, I just tried to make a play.
“That was an amazing game. We have a great rivalry with St. Augustine and our games are always close. It’s just good to get a win and get back on track.”
St. Augustine (20-6) took its final lead on Dave Sullivan’s two foul shots early in the second overtime. Catanoso gave Middle the lead for good with a 3-pointer from the left side.
Tempers flared at the end, which produced a pair of questionable technical fouls against the Hermits. Shelton made all six foul shots with 25 seconds to go to clinch it for the Panthers.
Shelton led Middle with 18 points while Catanoso added nine. Greenman topped the Hermits with 13 points. Gatto earned 10 points and four blocked shots.
“It hurts to lose, but those are the kinds of games you work so hard in the summer for,” Greenman said. “You don’t put in all that work to play in 20-point blowouts. That was just a great game.”
Contact David Weinberg:
St. Augustine Prep 10 8 9 9 2 2 —40
Middle Township 15 9 5 7 2 13—51
SA —Greenman 5 0-1 13, Sullivan 1 6-6 8, A. Nelson 1 1-3 3, Gatto 5 0-0 10, Rossell 0 0-0 0, Segal 0 0-2 0. Totals 15 7-12 40.
MT —Shelton 5 6-6 18, Catanoso 3 2-2 9, Feraco 4 0-1 8, Greer 1 4-8 7, Moore 2 0-0 4, Cowan 1 2-2 5. Totals 16 14-19 51.
3-pointers—Greenman (3) SA; Shelton (2), Catanoso, Greer, Cowan MT.
RECORDS—St. Augustine 20-6; Middle Township 20-5.