Camden Catholic took the lead for good just as time ran out in the first half.
Andrew Prete — an unassuming 5-foot-11 sophomore reserve guard — charged the basket and converted a picturesque reverse put-back just as the buzzer sounded.
If there was a manual on how to end a three-game losing streak, the image of Prete, airborne, could be on the cover.
The play embodied the energy with which Camden Catholic wanted to play up and down the roster.
And the Irish carried that energy into the third quarter, creating enough separation to beat a hot West Deptford team in a 59-50 road win on Saturday afternoon.
“This is huge. It’s huge for our momentum going forward, especially with the state tournament coming up. It’s huge for our team,” said Prete, whose Irish were coming off losses to the Haverford (Pa.) School, Camden, and Cherry Hill West. The Haverford and West losses were both by two points.
“Coach told us we had to go out and give it our all, all of our effort,” Prete said.
Zach Hicks, as usual, contributed in every facet. The 6-foot-7 junior swingman generated a game-high 27 points to go with five rebounds and three blocks.
But it took a team effort to stop one of the deepest, most balanced teams in South Jersey.
The Eagles (15-6) entered the game having won 12 of 13 games. They were up by as many as six in the first quarter before Camden Catholic started clawing back, culminating in a decisive third quarter in which the Irish outscored the Eagles, 18-9.
Prete, who finished with 13 points, scored eight in the third quarter, including knocking down a pair of three-pointers.
“In the third quarter, our on-ball defense defense wasn’t great, and they were able to penetrate and kick to the corners for threes. And give them credit for hitting those shots because we weren’t hitting ours,” said West Deptford coach John McKeown.
Brandon Ratcliffe led the Eagles with 18 points. He scored 10 in the first quarter. MJ Iraldi chipped in 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists for West Deptford.
After Camden Catholic (14-7) built a lead as high as 18 in the fourth quarter, the Eagles pressed down the stretch to cut into the Irish’s lead.
But the Irish, determined not to play a third nail-biter in four games, didn’t waiver down the stretch. With 2 minutes, 40 seconds left, Hicks — who also had three three-pointers — threw down an ally-oop that extended his team’s lead back to 17 and put the cherry on top of a solid win.
“We were down about those losses. We weren’t really talking to people at school,” Hicks said. “So coming out here and getting the win, now we can get back to normal.”
The Irish are hoping they continue building momentum and carry it into a Non-Public A South tournament in which they are the two-seed and defending champion.
“West Deptford is a very, very good team. I was happy that we got to come into an environment where we’re a little uncomfortable. But we played as hard as we could, and in the end we won,” said Camden Catholic coach Matt Crawford. “It was nice to see us do those little things in the end that we hadn’t been doing.”
Camden Catholic 14 9 18 18 — 59
West Deptford 14 8 9 19 — 50
CC: Zach Hicks 27, Andrew Prete 13, Lucas Dunn 5, Colin Merriman 8, Aric Hall 6.