The playoffs started early for the Lower Cape May High School boys basketball team.
The Caper Tigers were ready.
Jordan Pierce sank two critical 3-pointers in overtime to propel Lower to a 60-55 win over Mainland Regional in a Cape-Atlantic League National Division game. Pierce also made another 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter. With the win, Lower (16-7) qualified for the CAL Tournament for the first time in the program’s history.
“For a kid in his first year of varsity that was huge,” Lower Cape May coach Scott Holden said of Pierce. “I always tell him ‘When his feet are set, let it go.’ He stepped in and he had belief in himself. He nailed them.”
Wednesday's contest had all sorts of ramifications and was played with the intensity of a playoff game.
The Caper Tigers will be the No. 8 seed and play at top-seeded Wildwood Catholic on Friday. The CAL seeding committee met Wednesday morning and set up the following scenario: A Lower win, and it qualified. A Lower loss, and Holy Spirit would have been the No. 8 seed. Few thought Lower would qualify. The Caper Tigers graduated six of their top eight players after last season and saw their leading scorer transfer midway through this season.
“Everybody kind of wrote us off this year,” Holden said. “(Making the CAL Tournament) is huge, absolutely huge. I’m just tickled to death for the kids.”
Lower’s win also made Ocean City the National Division champion. Mainland (18-6) would have shared the division title with a win.
Wednesday’s game featured plenty of momentum changes.
Pierce finished with 15 points for Lower. Ronnie Jackson scored 18 and Dave Durham had 16.
Joe Massari scored 16 for Mainland, while Luke Mazur had 15. Mainland standout forward Angelo Barron injured his ankle in the second quarter and did not return.
Pierce’s first 3-pointer in overtime came from the left corner with 2 minutes, 50 seconds left and gave Lower a 55-53 lead.
His second overtime 3-pointer came from the right wing with 42 seconds left and gave Lower a 58-55 lead. The Caper Tigers never trailed again.
Durham sank two foul shots with 24 seconds left to clinch the win.
Lower had led by as many as nine in the fourth quarter.
The Mustangs rallied to tie the game behind the outside shooting of Massari and Mazur. Each sank two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Jake Cook made two foul shots to give Mainland a 52-50 lead with 31 seconds left in regulation.
Durham forced overtime when he made two foul shots with 16 seconds left to tie the game. Durham made the second one after Mainland called timeout.
The win sets up an emotional first-round CAL game. Lower standout sophomore Martin Anguelov transferred to Wildwood Catholic late last month. He is not eligible to play this season, under the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association transfer rules. Wildwood Catholic (22-1) is ranked No. 1 in The Press Elite 11.
The Caper Tigers were 11-4 before the transfer and 5-3 after it. But Wednesday’s win ended a three-game losing streak.
“Our kids know their kids,” Holden said of Wildwood Catholic. “Dave (Wildwood catholic coach Dave DeWeese) and I know each other very well. It’s going to be fun. We know who they are. It would be uncharacteristic for our guys not to go in there and bust their you know what. We’re looking forward to it.”
ML – 12 9 12 19 3 - 55
Lower 9 11 18 14 8 – 60
ML – Zanaras 8, Barron 0, Cook 14, Mace 4, Massari 16, Mazur 15
LCM – Durham 16, Gault 2, Moore 7, Jackson 18, Lugo 2, Pierce 15