Each new defeat during the Millville High School boys’ basketball team’s six-game losing streak was supposed to be the game that ended the group’s miserable run.
“We didn’t think it would get past one game,” Bolts junior guard Roberto Rivera said after the team finally snapped the skid with a 74-38 win over Buena on Jan. 18. “We didn’t expect to lose that many games in a row, but that’s the reality of the situation.”
It was the way Millville was losing that stung a little extra.
Allowing Winslow Township to score 31 points in the fourth quarter of a 61-58 loss. Losing by 16 points to a Bridgeton team with five starters that featured no varsity experience prior to this year. It tested Millville’s fortitude.
“We’ve beaten ourselves a few games,” Millville coach Michael Jones said. “We’re not finishing very well, missing a few easy layups, not rebounding particularly well, especially on the defensive end, and giving other teams second-chance points and that’s hurt us. It’s cost us a few games.”
In the competitive Cape-Atlantic League American Conference there is no room for taking a day off. The Bolts know they can forget securing any type of division or league title. Their focus now is fighting their way into the Group IV South playoff field, where Millville knows better than any team that anything can happen in the postseason.
Just last season, as the No. 14 seed, the Bolts nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets across South Jersey against third-seeded Shawnee. It took a prayer 3-pointer by Donny DiVirgilio at the buzzer — his only points of the game — to lift Shawnee to an improbable 53-52 win over Millville.
That’s why, despite the hardships the team has endured this year, Millville, at 5-8, is still hopeful for a chance to compete in the postseason.
“We just have to keep working hard because we know once you get in anything can happen just like last year,” Rivera said. “There’s still time to work some of the kinks out and try to get back on track for the playoffs.”
The Bolts have three games left before hitting the state-issued 16-game mark used to tally up power points and determine playoff seeding by the NJSIAA. Tuesday’s win over Vineland was a must-have for the Bolts with tough tests against Atlantic City (12-1), Kingsway and Holy Spirit all on tap.
“I don’t know exactly, but we’re right on the edge of getting in or not,” Jones said. “Vineland was a must-win for us with the tough stretch we have coming up. (In the playoffs) you can’t really control who you play, so as long as you get in and have a shot, that’s all you can ask for sometimes.”
Millville lost by 15 to Atlantic City and by 20 to Holy Spirit in its first meetings with both teams. That puts a little extra emphasis on the Kingsway game on Saturday. The Dragons are 5-7 and face a similar scenario as the Bolts in terms of playoff aspirations.
Sacred Heart’s setback
The Lions have talked at length about one of their major goals this season, which is winning the CAL United conference title.
The chances of that happening took a slight hit on Jan. 14 when Sacred Heart struggled on the road in a 73-56 loss to Cedar Creek. At least after that loss the Lions could say they still controlled their own destiny.
That was no longer the case after Tuesday’s 58-32 loss to Wildwood Catholic. At 12-1 (7-1 in United Conference play), the division title is now the Crusaders’ for the taking. Sacred Heart now needs help to get back in the United driver’s seat.
“They were more ready than we were,” Sacred Heart sophomore forward Michael Holloway Jr. said of Wildwood Catholic.
The Crusaders rushed out to a 8-0 lead and never looked back.
“They outworked us, caught us off guard,” Lions coach Kevin Nash said. “We came out flat and we knew we needed that game after what happened against Cedar Creek. It was a big one and we weren’t ready.”
Sacred Heart is still putting together an impressive season for as young as it is.
The team hasn’t lost games due to lack of talent. It’s the lack of experience that has caught up with the group at times.
“It’s a fun team to coach, but sometimes that youthful optimism stands in the way of the hard work it takes to win tough games,” Nash said.
Back in the win column
There haven’t been many positives for Vineland this season, but Wednesday was certainly one of them.
The Fighting Clan notched their third win of the season and first since Dec. 30 with a 37-35 victory over Lower Cape May.
Junior forward Eddie Thomas had a monster game for Vineland, scoring 18 points to go with 8 rebounds and 6 steals.
Area Elite Rankings*
1. St. Augustine (10-1) — Hermits can avenge their only loss of the season tonight against Middle Township.
2. Schalick (8-6) — Cougars dropped three straight games to quality competition.
3. Sacred Heart (9-7) — Big loss to Wildwood Catholic hurts Lions’ division title hopes.
4. Delsea (5-9) — Crusaders are finding life without Cedric Elleby (ankle) difficult.
Millville (5-8) — Pair of wins over Buena and Vineland could help Bolts into playoffs.
*Rankings reflect records as of Wednesday.