Jahlil White was ready to seize the moment.
White is a sophomore for the Wildwood Catholic basketball team. He still is young. He still lacks experience.
But it's late February, almost March. He's come a long way in a few months.
"In December, I'm not stepping up," White said.
White scored a career-high 17 points, sparking a second-half surge that carried Wildwood Catholic to a 61-53 victory over St. Augustine in the semifinals of the Cape Atlantic League tournament on Thursday night at Absegami.
Senior Caleb Fields also scored 17, making eight of nine free throws in the fourth quarter, as second-seeded Wildwood Catholic (23-2) advanced to meet top-seeded Atlantic City (22-3) in Saturday's title game at Stockton University.
Atlantic City won Thursday night's second semifinal, setting a tournament record for points in a 93-69 victory over fourth-seeded Pleasantville.
"This is great, it's where we worked all season to be," White said of reaching the conference title game.
Senior swingman Marlon Hargis scored 20 and senior guard Travis Stoll added 17 points with eight rebounds for third-seeded St. Augustine (19-6).
The loss ended the Hermits' three-year run as conference champions.
"We had an eight-point lead with the ball [in the first half] and we couldn't take advantage," St. Augustine coach Paul Rodio said. "We played a great first half but we needed to play two great halves. They played better than us down the stretch."
Foul trouble hurt the Hermits. Hargis and junior forward Charles Solomon both picked up their third foul in the second quarter and their fourth in the third quarter, limiting their playing time and effectiveness.
Wildwood Catholic took advantage, with White leading the way as Fields, a Bowling Green recruit and the team's top player, scuffled to find his rhythm at the offensive end.
"I had to get Caleb going," White said. "I knew I had to go to the basket, pick things up for my team."
The 6-foot-3 White scored eight in the third quarter as Wildwood Catholic turned a 27-18 halftime deficit into a 35-32 lead.
"It was our energy," Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese said. "I was not happy with our energy in the first half. We were very tentative. Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was the bus ride.
"But they came out of this locker room at halftime fired up."
Fields picked up his play in the second half, scoring his first basket on a drive late in the third quarter and converting a three-point play for a 50-42 lead with two minutes, 40 seconds to play.
But for DeWeese, one of the most positive aspects of the victory was the Crusaders' ability to beat a quality opponent in a game in which Fields struggled to score until the final three minutes.
"This is a team," DeWeese said. "[Fields] is our man but this is a team."
DeWeese said White's ability to take command of a big game was a sign of the sophomore's progress.
"He has improved so much as the season has gone along," DeWeese said of White. "He's picking his spots. You see where he's at. We talk about his ceiling. We say he has no ceiling."
St. Augustine 15 12 5 21 – 53
Wildwood Catholic 10 8 17 26 – 61
SA: Jordan Kendrick 7, Marlon Hargis 20, Travis Stoll 17, Charles Solomon 2, Kevin Foreman 5, Matt Delaney 2.