COLUMN: Reviewing 2016-17 CAL basketball

By TOM WILLIAMS

High school basketball ended in New Jersey last month with a doubleheader in Trenton to decide the Tournament of Champions titles. There is still All Star Saturday next week (April 8) when the best Cape-Atlantic League high school seniors and 8th graders come together at Ocean City High School.

There were two South Jersey champions from the CAL this year. The Ocean City girls repeated as South Jersey Group 3 winners, marking seven straight seasons the CAL has boasted a South Jersey champ in girls basketball. St. Augustine also won its second straight South Jersey title, Paul Rodio’s 14th. CAL teams have won South Jersey titles in 46 of the last 47 years.

St. Augustine won the CAL championship for the 10th time and for the third straight year. Among the girls, Ocean City beat Middle Townshipin in overtime to win its fifth championship, tying Absegami for the most girls titles .

The boys stat leaders included Cape May Tech’s Josh Wright (24.3 points per game); St. Joseph’s Marcellus Ross (87 three-pointers); St. Augustine’s Marlon Hargis (79.4 percent from the line); Mainland’s Osun Osunniyi (318 rebounds); Atlantic City’s Nazim Derry (77 steals); and Pleasantville’s Divine Anderson (213 assists). The full list of CAL boys stat leaders is here.

For the girls it was Vineland’s Nosaja Echeverria (18.6 points); Wildwood Catholic’s Caitlin McMullan (64 three-pointers); Absegami’s Julia Dolan (77.2 percent from the line); Vineland’s Chakyra Moss (262 rebounds); Ocean City’s Grace Sacco (178 assists); and Mainland’s Kylee Watson (66 blocked shots). Check out all the girls leaders in CAL stats.

Before we put this CAL season into the books, it is time for the annual basketball buffet, a list of the best of the just completed season from one point of view.

All Cape-Atlantic Boys: Ray Bethea, Atlantic City; Caleb Fields, Wildwood Catholic; Austin Kennedy, St. Augustine; Luciano Lubrano, Ocean City; Justyn Mutts, St. Augustine.

All Cape-Atlantic Girls: Jenna Herlihy, Middle Township; Ayanna Jones, Holy Spirit; Caitlin McMullan, Wildwood Catholic; Grace Sacco, Ocean City; Kylee Watson, Mainland.

Players of the Year: Justyn Mutts and Grace Sacco.

New Jersey’s Best: The Gatorade New Jersey Players of the Year were Jahvon Quinerly of Hudson Catholic and Dara Mabrey of Manasquan, both juniors.

The Predicted 2018-19 CAL Boys All Star Team: Jake Hopping, Holy Spirit; Jalen Freeman, Middle Township; Rynell Lawrence, Millville; Taj Thweatt, Wildwood Catholic; Josh Wright, Cape May Tech.

The Predicted 2018-19 CAL Girls All Star Team: Tahira Howard, Atlantic Tech; Ciani Redd-Howard, Holy Spirit; Tori Rolls, Ocean City; Kylee Watson, Mainland; Zhyana Young, Holy Spirit.

Home Court Advantage: Only one team was undefeated on its home court this year – St. Augustine was 14-0 in the Paul Rodio Gymnasium. The Egg Harbor Township boys were 8-4 at home but 3-10 on the road. The Cedar Creek girls were 8-3 at the Joe Mohr Gymnasium but 5-10 away from home.

Biggest Improvement: The biggest jumps in wins from 2015-16 to this year was 14 more wins by the Lower Cape May boys and nine additional wins by the Millville girls.

The Drought is Over: The Mainland boys won their first conference championship since 1989 and the Millville girls won their first conference title since 1994.

Another Verizon Fios Salute: Thorough coverage of CAL basketball continued through the broadcast media, probably as thorough as any league in the state. And, while live radio coverage has been around for decades, video streaming continued to progress this season. Matt Ulmer, the Dean of Stream, again covered games online all over South Jersey with his camera and laptop this year. WSNJ streamed St. Augustine Prep home games. Look for even more next year.

CAL Boys Coach of the Year: You always consider Paul Rodio, Gene Allen, Dave DeWeese and Jamie Gillespie. John Bruno, Mike Jones, Scott Holden and Paul Rodio (the son) also deserve strong consideration this year. But the nod goes to Mainland’s Dan Williams, who took a team filled with role players, who all filled their roles effectively, and turned it into a championship team that became the first Mainland team to win 22 times since 1994-95.

CAL Girls Coach of the Year: John Leahy did a great job, particularly in the early games when Bridget Ruskey was injured. Jason Kessler, Dennis Smith, Scott Betson, Steve DiPatri and Jason VanderRyk all were impressive, with DiPatri becoming No. 1 all-time in CAL girls basketball wins. But this year’s choice is Ocean City’s Paul Baruffi, whose CAL and South Jersey titles and school record 30-win season proved once again that a solid approach and players that believe in it can produce champions.

Shot of the Year: It was no contest. Ocean City and Cumberland played a somewhat meaningless game in the open spaces well above Bridgeton. Cumberland led by a point and the Raiders had the ball out of bounds with five-tenths of a second on the clock. Andrew Donoghue passed the ball inbounds to sophomore Luke Varallo who made a touch-shot into the basket from about 25 feet for the win. It was a stunning finish.

Game of the Year: Because of their style, the Ocean City girls frequently have close games – a two-point win over Mainland, an overtime win against Middle in the CAL final and a thriller with Ewing in the state semifinals are three examples. But St. Augustine finished its season with a loss in the state final, a loss that demonstrated how good a team they were. Down by 14 points in the fourth quarter, the Hermits stormed back and had a shot to tie the game in the final possession. It was a terrific game, an incredible fourth quarter rally and it was on the biggest of stages.

The Cape-Atlantic League was successful again during the 2016-17 basketball season. There are many talented young players returning, so things could be entertaining again next year.

Spring sports are scheduled to start this weekend (though it doesn’t look like the weather will cooperate) but it will be less than 37 weeks until basketball returns.

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