As far as consolation prizes go, Tuesday was likely as good as it gets for the Vineland High School boys’ basketball team.
Wins have been hard to come by this year for the Fighting Clan, but something clicked for the team earlier this week against Ocean City. Vineland secured its fourth win of the 2012-13 campaign with a workmanlike 77-70 win over the visiting Red Raiders.
It seems like a turnover here, or a missed shot there has been the story of Vineland’s season this year, but Tuesday’s result was certainly welcomed by the team.
“It was kind of a relief,” said Vineland senior forward Charlie Ware, who scored 12 points in the victory.
Ware was one of just four players recognized during the pregame Senior Night ceremony along with Jairo Rivas, Manny Colvin and Kevin Ellis.
With at least three games left on the schedule, Vineland is hoping the win over Ocean City will be the starting point of a strong finish to the regular season and something that could carry over into next year.
“We really have to finish out strong because most of the team is returning next year,” Ware said. “So they’re going to have to take this into the spring and summer, and come back next year 10-times stronger.”
A solid finish could be in the cards for Vineland with games against Cape May Tech (Tuesday) and the Atlantic County Institute of Technology (Thursday) upcoming.
Some late success is the hope for second-year coach Travis Amstutz.
“That’s really our focus, to bring some energy to these last three or four games, or however many we wind up playing,” Amstutz said.
When asked if Senior Night contributed to Tuesday’s high-energy level, Amstutz wasn’t so sure.
“It’s hard to tell with these guys cause they’re really not emotional kids,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get them to play with fire and emotion, and really Jola (Babalola) is the only one that really does that on the court. Not that they don’t get into it, because they do play hard.”
Prior to beating Ocean City, Vineland’s last win came Jan. 23 against Lower Cape May.
The cheers inside the Clan locker room following the victory over the Red Raiders could be heard easily through the doors and onto Irv Gosman Court.
“It’s been a month since we’ve won and I just feel good for the kids,” Amstutz said. “It’s great for the seniors, they deserve it, and like I said, we have two or three winnable games left and we’d like to make a nice little run, give the seniors a good sendoff and give the younger guys something to build on.”
CAL Tournament set
Both Sacred Heart and St. Augustine have qualified for the eight-team field to determine a Cape-Atlantic League champion.
The Prep was seeded third and will host No. 6 Hammonton, while Sacred Heart, which picked up a share of the CAL-United crown with Wildwood Catholic, is seeded seventh and will travel to No. 2 Middle Township.
First-round action is set to start tonight.
While St. Augustine appeared in last year’s first-ever CAL playoff, Sacred Heart will be making its tournament debut.
“Middle Township is one of the best teams in South Jersey and coach (Tom) Feraco is one of the best around,” Sacred Heart coach Kevin Nash said of his team’s matchup with the Panthers. “It’s a great opportunity and I know the kids are excited.”
New to the tournament this year is the inclusion of two wild card slots — which were awarded to Hammonton and Egg Harbor Twp.
Though the Lions weren’t the beneficiaries of the extra slots, Nash likes the idea.
“I was just talking to (coach) Tim Gallagher at St. Joe about it,” Nash said. “It gives more teams an opportunity of something to look forward to. It’s pretty cool and generates some buzz.”
This will be Sacred Heart’s first meeting with Middle Twp. this year while St. Augustine owns two wins over Hammonton already.
Delsea still hurting
It seems to go from bad to worse for the Crusaders this season in terms of injuries.
Still without star forward Cedric Elleby (fractured ankle), Delsea got more bad news on Monday when junior guard Ronnie Russell suffered a broken nose in practice. Russell has been arguably Delsea’s best player over the last month, scoring double-digits in six of the last seven games he’s played entering Thursday.
Crusaders coach Tom Freeman called the injury a “freak accident” that occurred during a 1-on-1 drill with freshman guard Kaleb Morton.
“I was about 10 feet away and I could hear it break,” Freeman said. “It was bad.”
Unlike Elleby, who is 50-50 to play in Delsea’s first round playoff game against Oakcrest on Feb. 25, the Crusaders will have Russell’s services for the postseason as he had a special mask made to allow him to compete.
Between Elleby and Russell’s injuries and having to wait for transfer Kwame Morton to become eligible, Freeman hasn’t had the luxury of marching the envisioned starting five out on the court together once this year.
“I haven’t had a full boat all season,” Freeman said. “And the reality is that I might not.”
None of that has stopped Delsea from remaining competitive this season, however, and the Crusaders should be considered a threat in the playoffs again this year.
“It has been a total team effort,” Freeman said. “A lot of guys have stepped up and made contributions.”
Area Elite Rankings*
1. St. Augustine (19-3) — Hermits will be one of the favorites to win the CAL title.
2. Schalick (13-7) — Cougars are patiently waiting to start their playoff run.
3. Sacred Heart (15-8) — Lions looking to score a major upset over Middle Twp. tonight.
4. Delsea (10-12) — A banged-up Crusaders team is hoping to be healthy for the playoffs.
Millville (9-12) — Bolts playing for pride at this point.
*Rankings reflect records as of Wednesday.