ATLANTIC CITY – Charles Solomon wasn’t surprised by the Atlantic City High School boys basketball team Friday night.
Many others in Atlantic City’s gym were.
Solomon sank 9 of 10 shots and scored 20 points to lead St. Augustine to a 62-55 win over Atlantic City in a Battle by the Bay game.
St. Augustine (14-2) entered the game as the favorite. The Hermits are ranked No. 5 in The Press Elite 11. Meanwhile, Atlantic City is in the midst of a rare rebuilding season. The Vikings (7-10) are trying to avoid their first losing season since they finished 7-12 in 1968-69.
St. Augustine beat Atlantic City 71-57 on Jan. 16. Solomon knew Friday’s rematch would be closer. Most others in the Cape-Atlantic League basketball community expected another St. Augustine double-digit win.
“Atlantic City is a great program,” Solomon said. “Their coach Gene Allen is a legendary coach. They’re in the home gym. They weren’t going to back down. I wasn’t surprised at all.”
The Hermits overwhelmed the Vikings with their size, scoring 36 points in the lane. St. Augustine outrebounded Atlantic City 33-22.
Andrew Delaney, a 6-foot-8 senior, scored 16 and grabbed six rebounds for St. Augustine. His 6-8 sophomore brother Matt contributed eight points and five rebounds.
Atlantic City gave its best effort of the season. Junior forward Stephen Byard scored a game-high 23 and had nine rebounds. Senior forward Zaire Montague scored 19 and had four assists and four steals.
“I’m not into moral victories,” Allen said, “but I told our kids I thought we competed and played our best game of the year in a tough environment against a very sound team.”
The Battle by the Bay began in 1995 and annually features some of the top high school programs from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and other East Coast states.
St. Augustine appeared headed for the easy victory most fans thought the game would be. Point guard Jordyn Kendrick sank two 3-pointers as the Hermits jumped to a 20-5, first-quarter lead.
“We started out well and then we just got out of sync,” St. Augustine coach Paul Rodio said. “Give Atlantic City credit. They hung in there.”
Atlantic City slowly grinded its was back into the game in the second quarter. Cory Yeoman and Byard finished the second quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers as the Vikings cut St. Augustine’s lead to 31-25 at halftime.
The 6-5 Solomon helped the Hermits keep the lead with a variety of drives to the basket.
The Vikings refused to fade away.
Atlantic City cut the St. Augustine lead to five points on Byard’s conventional 3-point play with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left in the game.
The Vikings, however, got no closer.
St. Augustine should be the top seed when the South Jersey Non-Public A playoffs begin Feb. 25.
Meanwhile, the game is one from which Atlantic City should be able to build.
St. Augustine;22 9 17 14—62
Atlantic City;11 14 16 14—55
SA—J. Kendrick 8, Solomon 20, Vanderslice 4, A. Delaney 16, M. Delaney 8, Foreman 4, Leo 2
AC—Byard 23, Montague 19, Teague 4, Yeoman 3, Fredericks 6