ABSECON - In a defensive boys' basketball clash between two hard-as-nails teams yesterday, it was fitting that the outcome wasn't determined until the clock showed zeros.
A missed three-pointer at the buzzer meant that Holy Spirit had survived this struggle, outlasting visiting Camden Catholic, 35-32, in a South Jersey Non-Public A semifinal yesterday.
Top-seeded Spirit (26-2), will face Christian Brothers Academy for the South Jersey Non-Public A championship at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Jackson Liberty. Christian Brothers was a 58-48 winner over St. Joseph of Metuchen last night.
Fifth-seeded Camden Catholic ended its season at 22-6.
"This one was won by our defense," said Holy Spirit guard B.J. Bailey, who scored a game-high 13 points. "That is a great team, and I thought we did a good job of limiting their strength inside."
Ranked No. 2 in South Jersey by The Inquirer, Spirit wasn't thinking of exacting revenge for last year's 48-45 loss to Camden Catholic in the Non-Public A title game.
All the Spartans wanted was to survive this battle of wills between two of the best teams South Jersey has to offer.
And that meant stopping the last play.
The fact that the Irish got to take a last shot said a lot about their resilience, because they appeared to be buried when Preston Smith made 1 of 2 free throws to boost Spirit's lead to 34-27 with 47.3 seconds left.
Jahseer Bronson hit a three-pointer to cut Catholic's deficit to 34-30 with 28.3 seconds left
Bailey then hit 1 of 2 foul shots.
Tim Crawford made it 35-32, scoring on a follow with 12.3 seconds to play.
Spirit's Giovanny Perdomo, who - like his teammates - played a great defensive game, then missed the front end of a one-and-one that would have sealed matters with 6.2 seconds left.
Camden Catholic called a time-out with 5.1 seconds remaining. Even though the Irish needed a three-pointer and everyone knew it, Camden Catholic still got a great final look when Bronson found teammate Anthony D'Orazio in the corner.
When the basketball left D'Orazio's hands, it looked as if it had a chance, but it bounced off the rim. Spirit had survived.
"It felt pretty good when I shot it," D'Orazio said. "I didn't quite have a clean look, because I was fading and behind the backboard and had to go over it."
Spirit did a great job on defense, denying Catholic its potent inside game.
Bronson and 6-foot-6 juniors Crawford and Gerry Wixted each scored eight points for the Irish.
"We lost last year to them and were heartbroken," Bailey said. "Now we're back playing for a championship and it feels great."
Camden Catholic 4 11 8 9 - 32
Holy Spirit 9 7 9 10 - 35
CC: Jahseer Bronson 8, Anthony D'Orazio 2, Tim Crawford 8, Gerry Wixted 8, Sherard Cadogan 6.
HS: Jate Cheshul 6, B.J. Bailey 13, Preston Smith 6, Giovanny Perdomo 6, Asmar Williams 4.