HAMMONTON – The St. Joseph High School boys basketball team felt it needed a big win.
The Wildcats got that victory in the biggest way possible Tuesday night.
Junior guard Marcus Pierce scored 25 points as St. Joe stunned Wildwood Catholic 66-58 in a Cape-Atlantic League United Division game. Wildwood Catholic is ranked No. 2 in The Press Elite 11 and is the two-time defending CAL champion. The Crusaders were predicted to go through the CAL regular season undefeated.
“We want to show people we’re for real,” St. Joe coach Paul Rodio said. “I’m so happy for the school. We’ve been working hard. We needed a big win. We get mad when people don’t give us credit. I think now we solidified ourselves.”
Pierce dribbled out the final seconds as Wildcats fans in a packed St. Joe gym roared.
“Nobody thought we were going to pull this one out,” Pierce said. “Me and my guys, our coaches, we all stayed together with the belief we were going to come out with the win. We stuck to the game plan, and we got it done.”
The win ended years frustration for St. Joe. The Wildcats hadn’t beaten Wildwood Catholic since 2009.
St. Joe (16-3) is in the midst of an impressive season, but it had yet to get a signature victory.
In a marquee game against Pennsylvania power Chester on Feb. 1, the Wildcats fell behind 25-5 and lost 76-53.
St. Joe used the lessons learned from that defeat Tuesday. The Wildcats jumped on Wildwood Catholic from the start. They led 17-11 after the first quarter and 30-16 at halftime.
“Everything was (sparked) by our defense,” Rodio said. “When our defense plays well, it opens our transition offense, and that’s what we do very well. If we don’t play good defense, our game doesn’t look right.”
Jordan Stafford sparked the Wildcats with six in the first quarter. Pierce and sophomore forward Daniel Skillings combined to score all 13 of St. Joe’s second quarter points.
“We had our crowd behind us,” Pierce said. “The energy was up. We started out slow against Chester. That killed us. We wanted to get a good start tonight.”
Pierce controlled the game in the second half.
“I wanted to show everybody that I’m a good player,” he said. “They (Wildwood Catholic) have two very good Division I players. I wanted to show I could play with the best.”
The defeat left Wildwood Catholic stunned. More than anything, the Crusaders just seem exhausted. The Crusaders (15-6), who made just 11 of 21 foul shots, have dropped three straight and four of their last six. Temple-recruit Jahlil White led Wildwood Catholic with 20, while West Virginia-recruit Taj Thweatt had 12.
St. Joe fans mobbed the Wildcats after the final buzzer sounded. Pierce got another ovation from the crowd that lingered in the gym after he emerged from the St. Joe locker room.
Just as the Wildcats learned from their previous big-game defeats, Rodio wants the team to learn from Tuesday’s big-game win.
“My main message,” Rodio said, “to the team is ‘You know how good this felt. We need to feel like that more and more.’ ”
Wildwood Catholic 11 5 11 31 – 58
St. Joseph 17 13 13 23 - 66
WC – Thweatt 12, White 20, Hopping 10, Zarfati , Anguelov 0, Lopez 9
SJ - Pierce 25, Skillings 20, Stafford 8, Prevard 7, Delva 2, Griffin 4,