Austin Kennedy's days as St. Augustine Prep's secret weapon might be over.
The sophomore guard from Medford burst into prominence on the big stage Friday night, scoring 20 points to lead St. Augustine to a 66-60 victory over Atlantic City in a clash of Top 4 teams in the Battle by the Bay showcase.
"He carried us," St. Augustine coach Paul Rodio said of Kennedy, who scored 18 points in the second half, including 11 in a decisive 15-2 run in the third quarter.
Junior guard Sa'eed Nelson scored 19 and senior forward Nate Aldrich added 10 points with 12 rebounds for St. Augustine (15-1), the No. 3 team in The Inquirer's Top 20.
St. Augustine likely locked up the No. 1 seed in the Non-Public South A tournament.
Junior swingman Jamir Prevard scored 17 points and junior forward Leon Daniels generated 11 points and 13 rebounds for No. 4 Atlantic City (8-5).
"They did a better job of executing than we did," Atlantic City coach Gene Allen said.
Allen said his team's game plan was to concede that Nelson and sophomore Justyn Mutts would get their points for St. Augustine, but to shut down the Hermits' complementary players.
But Kennedy and Aldrich made play after play before a near-capacity crowd in Atlantic City's cavernous gymnasium.
"Poor strategy on my part," Allen said. "Kennedy and Aldrich absolutely killed us."
The game was something of a break-out party for Kennedy, who was one of South Jersey's most highly touted eighth-grade players two years ago.
Kennedy was a part-time contributor on the varsity level as a freshmen and has been a solid starter for the Hermits this season.
But Kennedy said he probably played his best game as a high school athlete in the annual showcase event between Cape-Atlantic League rivals.
"Especially with their being such a big crowd and its being such a big game," Kennedy said.
Atlantic City's Lamar Thomas (14 points) hit a pair of three-point jumpers to fuel a 12-2 run as the Vikings took a 39-35 lead midway in the third quarter.
But St. Augustine answered with a 15-2 run to seize a 50-41 advantage, with most of the damage done with Nelson and Mutts on the bench.
Kennedy started the surge with a three-pointer from the corner and added four more field goals, including a layup off a feed from Max Lamcken off a perfectly executed play.
"We ran our sets better than we did all night," Rodio said of the key stretch of the third quarter. "We were kind of hoping to survive [with Nelson and Mutts on the bench] but those kids ran their sets and they executed.
"Kennedy was incredible."
St. Augustine got good minutes from reserves Lamcken (five rebounds), Walt Harvey (five points, three rebounds), and Mike Toner (three points, two assists).
Those players' contributions, plus stellar work by Kennedy and Aldrich, belied the notion that the Hermits would be overly reliant on Nelson and Mutts against a high-quality opponent.
"I get criticized for playing too many players," Rodio said. "But those guys get in there in a big game and they believe they belong in there."
Kennedy helped seal the victory with seven points in the final 1 minute, 50 seconds with a layup and five free throws.
"Sa'eed and Justyn are our top two scorers, but we have other guys who can score, not just me," Kennedy said. "We showed what we can do as a team in a big game like this."
St. Augustine 15 17 18 16 - 66
Atlantic City 11 16 16 17 - 60
SA: Sa'eed Nelson 19, Austin Kennedy 20, Justyn Mutts 5, George Steffa 2, Nate Aldrich 10, Mike Toner 3, Walt Harvey 5, Max Lamcken 2.
AC: Lamar Thomas 14, Kevin Allen 14, Jamir Prevard 17, Leon Daniels 11, Ashon Centino 2, Laceon Redfurn 2.