BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - Nothing surprised coach Paul Rodio of the St. Augustine Prep boys basketball team Friday night.
Not the way Middle Township rallied from a double-digit deficit to force overtime on Darrell Shelton's 3-pointer with eight seconds left in regulation.
Not the way St. Augustine then responded in overtime.
David Sullivan scored 20 points to lead the Her.mits to a thrilling 63-61 overtime win over Middle in a Cape-Atlantic League National Division game. The teams are now tied for the division lead.
Sullivan's steal and layup gave St. Augustine a two-point overtime lead it never relinquished.
"I put my shoe in my mouth before the game," Rodio said. "I said I'd love to see us get involved in a barnburner where we have to dig deep to see what we're made of. I wasn't shocked the way they came back. I also wasn't shocked that my kids kept their composure. We stopped them when we had to and we made foul shots."
Fans packed St. Augustine's gym on a snowy, frigid night to watch one of the region's best basketball rivalries. The teams are perennial powers. Middle Township (11-3) is ranked No. 3 in The Press Elite 11, while St. Augustine (13-1) is No. 4. Middle won the first game between the schools 67-47 in Cape May Court House on Dec. 18.
On Friday, St. Augustine built what seemed to be a commanding lead in the third quarter. The Hermits closed the period with an 11-0 run to take a 46-32 lead.
Sullivan, a 6-foot-2 senior guard from Egg Harbor Township, sparked the Hermits’ offense. He sank a 3-pointer and another from outside during the first quarter. Sullivan made driving layups and beat the Panthers down the court for fast-break baskets.
“We were able to spark our offense with defense and get out and run,” Sullivan said.
Middle trailed 50-37 with 6 minutes, 56 seconds left in the game after Hermits guard Michael Greenman (13 points) made four straight free throws.
The Panthers then rallied behind Shelton (10 points) and forward Tom Feraco (27 points). Shelton scored just one point over the first three quarters, but he sank an underhanded scoop shot in the lane and a driving layup during a 10-0 run that cut St. Augustine’s lead to 50-47 with 4:08 left.
Like Rodio, Middle coach Tom Feraco, the father of the Middle player, also wasn’t surprised how the game unfolded.
“These are neighborhood kids who have been together,” coach Feraco said of the Panthers. “They’re a gritty, determined group.”
The Panthers tied the game with 8.6 seconds left on Shelton’s 3-pointer that swished through the net.
Shelton dribbled just right of the top of the key. He stepped back and sank the 3 with Sullivan right on him.
“That was a big blow to us,” Sullivan said. “But we knew this was our game. We just had to focus, get our composure back and make big plays.”
The Hermits did just that.
St. Augustine never trailed during the 4-minute overtime. Sullivan’s steal and layup at halfcourt and two Blake Rossell (nine points, six rebounds) foul shots put the Hermits up four.
“It’s such a short overtime,” Sullivan said. “We were able to shift the momentum with those plays.”
St. Augustine protected its lead with two stellar defensive plays and Greenman’s clutch foul shots.
Hermits junior guard Kevin Kennedy came off the bench to shadow Shelton all over the court in the game’s final 30 seconds. Joe Gatto came from the weakside to block a Middle layup attempt with 22.1 seconds left.
“I thought we had a layup, but Gatto came out of nowhere,” coach Feraco said. “Gatto’s block and Sullivan’s steal were big plays. You like to see kids make big plays at the end of the game and they made them.”
Middle had another chance to take the lead. The Panthers had the ball down a point. But St. Augustine reserve swingman Nate Segal caused a Middle turnover when he knocked away a pass with 5.9 seconds left.
Greenman picked up the loose ball and then sank 3-of-4 foul shots to preserve the win.
“I was hoping we’d blow it open (in the fourth quarter),” Greenman said. “But if things happen, I would like to be the one shooting (important) foul shots at the end.”
The Hermits mobbed each other in celebration when the final buzzer sounded. The win meant a lot, considering their lopsided loss at Middle in December.
“They’re a great program,” Rodio said. “To come back from losing by 20 down there to win (the rematch) is a great thing for my kids.”
The great thing for fans of both teams as they left the gym to head into the snow is that St. Augustine and Middle could meet for a third time in the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament in February.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Middle Township 17 10 5 24 5-61
St. Augustine 17 11 18 10 7-63
MT- Catanoso 5 5-6 16, Feraco 8 9-9 27, Shelton 4 1-2 10, Moore 1 0-0 2, Cowan 2 1-2 6. Totals 20 16-19 61
SA-Greenman 1 11-13 13, Sullivan 7 5-6 20, Vasturia 2 3-4 7, Gatto 2 0-2 4, Rossell 3 3-4 9, Seward 3 1-1 7, Segal 1 0-0 3. Totals 19 23-30 63
3-Pointers-MT, Feraco (2), Catanoso, Cowan, Shelton; SA, Sullivan, Segal
Records-Middle Township 11-3; St. Augustine Prep 13-1.