Year of the Dawgs
By Lauree Padgett. Photographs by Gwen Isner.
Photographs copyright © Gwen Isner Photography 2018. All rights reserved.
In early February, around the time I became aware that it was the Chinese Year of the Dog, I started having the notion that it might also be the year of the Haddonfield Bulldawgs boys basketball team. (Furthermore, the Year of the Dog happens every 12 years, and coincidently, the last time the Dawgs won the Group 2 state championship was 2006, which was, yup, 12 years ago … ) However, I kept that “winning” feeling to myself, even as my gut was becoming more and more convinced that the Dawgs could go all the way. What follows is a somewhat chronological recap of how this happened, despite the numerous obstacles the Dawgs faced along the way.
First, a few words about those obstacles. In the early weeks of the season, although the Dawgs started out on a winning streak, injuries kept cropping up. Junior point guard Mike DePersia’s swollen knee would keep him out of the lineup three times over a 6-game stretch beginning with the Jan. 13 game against Overbrook. Fellow junior Dan Fleming would deal with ankle and thumb problems on and off that would hamper his playing time as well. But true calamity struck senior Will Bond, who had been the Dawgs’ biggest offensive weapon in the early going. In an attempt to take an offensive charge during a blowout against Audubon on Jan. 16, Bond went down near the end of the second quarter and did not return to the game. The news that eked out a few days later was grim: Will had suffered what was deemed a season-ending broken wrist. On the heels of that devastating loss, the day after Bond went down, junior Lew Evans badly sprained his ankle during a team practice, and ended up on the sidelines in a boot for more than 2 weeks. As if not having the energy-sparking, defensive-intensive Evans available off the bench wasn’t a bad enough blow to the Dawgs, another big player off the bench, senior Sam Heine, took an elbow to the nose during the “home” Haddon Township game on Jan. 30. Because he did not need surgery, as Will had, Sam was able to start playing again, wearing a protective nose shield, after missing 2 weeks of action. However, each time a player went down or had to miss a game, his teammates stepped up, and with few exceptions, the Dawgs kept on winning, no matter who was—or wasn’t—on the court.
After an impressive 11-0 start to the season, Haddonfield’s first loss would come on Jan. 20 versus Wildwood Catholic while DePersia, Fleming, Bond, and Evans were all bench-ridden. Still, it was a close game. As The Inquirer’s Phil Anastasia reported (“Wildwood Catholic Beats Hobbled Haddonfield,” Jan. 21, 2018): “Haddonfield missed its first 14 shots of the game but stayed in contention with foul shooting, patient offense and a sticky, match-up zone defense.” But let’s not start in the middle. Let’s start at the beginning so we can better savor this amazing season.
Used to be back in the day that repeatedly claiming the Colonial crown was no easy task. Haddon Heights, Sterling, and Collingswood were all among the perennial contenders along with Haddonfield. This year, while the Dawgs still captured their 7th straight title (two outright Colonial championships, including this season, and five Liberty titles), going 15-1, there were the expected blowouts, but a few games were tighter contests. Here’s a rundown of all of those conference matchups, but for the most part, it was the non-conference games, plus the playoffs, that really showed the Dawgs’ mettle from December through March. (I highlight those games separately below.)
12/19/17 @ Sterling
While Haddon Heights was supposed to be the Dawgs’ first opponent of the 2017-18 season, Mother Nature interfered. Instead, the team’s initial foray into the Colonial pool was a Tuesday night away game against Sterling. The Silver Knights and the Dawgs went back and forth in the first quarter, but junior Aiden Blake’s baskets sandwiched on either end of a Lew Evans’ basket gave Haddonfield a 17-14 edge going into the second quarter. The Dawgs started the second in control, but with 3 minutes and change left until the half, those pesky Knights had come charging back to tie it at 22 all. A nice jumper by Will Bond put Haddonfield back in the lead. The Dawgs would net 9 more points before the quarter ended to take a double-digit, 33-22, lead at the half.
Sterling only would put up one less point than Haddonfield in the third, but the Dawgs’ halftime cushion kept them up by 12 going into the 4th. In that quarter, the Knights matched the Dawgs point for point, but Haddonfield got the victory, winning 55-43. Will Bond (16) and Mike DePersia (15) led the way for the Dawgs.
Next up was the Dawgs’ first “home” game, home being the bleacher-filled gymnasium at Cherry Hill East, as the boys’ iconic, box-shaped court is undergoing renovations that are not expected to be finished in time for next year’s hoops season either. The boys played host to Collingswood, but were not very welcoming to the Panthers. By the end of the first, fueled by 7 points by DePersia and 8 by Bond, the Dawgs had a 17-point, 23-6 lead. It didn’t get much better for Collingswood in the 2nd, and the Dawgs trotted off to the locker room up by 25, 37-22. After 3, Haddonfield was a point shy of doubling Collingswood’s score, at 49-25, and by game’s end, they had, cruising to 65-32 win. Bond (14), DePersia (10) and Dan Fleming (10) helped to power the Dawgs’ offense.
Haddon Heights, 12/23
The Heights game was rescheduled on Dec. 23 after I’d had to reschedule an oil change that didn’t happen as planned also due to weather-related complications. (It was barely winter, and I was already getting pretty ticked off at Mother Nature.) Consequently, I got to the game just as the first half was ending. The first two quarters must have been pretty exciting, though, as the teams walked off the court locked up at 27 all.
The 3rd quarter was back and forth, each team answering the other’s basket with one of their own for the first 2:30. Then the Garnets went on a mini run and pulled ahead 35-31. After a bucket by Bond, Heights hit a 3 to increase their lead to 5, 38-33. Baskets by DePersia and Blake on either side of a Heights foul shot brought the Dawgs to within 2, 37-39. After another free throw by Heights, senior Ben Schroeter, who had just come back into the lineup, hit a 3 to tie it up 40 all. Two more free throws gave Heights back the lead, but junior Dylan Heine’s field goal brought the game even at 42, which is how the quarter ended.
The beginning of the final quarter was more of the same. Heights would score, the Dawgs would score. Neither team was really able to pull away. With about 4 minutes left, a Bond basket put the Dawgs up 51-47. After 1-2 from the line by Heights, DePersia drove in the paint to give the Dawgs their widest margin, 53-48. Heights would score one more time to get back to within 3, but DePersia and Bond, who combined for all 16 of the Dawgs’ 4th quarter points, would finish off the Garnets, putting 5 more on the board for Haddonfield and securing a 55-50 win. DePersia finished with 17 and Bond, 14.
1/9/18 @ West Deptford
Since even their “home” games meant a bus ride, it’s redundant to say the Dawgs hit the road for their first conference game of the New Year, so instead I’ll say they ventured up 295 to visit the Eagles of West Deptford. Ben Schroeter got the “O” going on Haddonfield’s first possession, knocking down a trey. After the Eagles got 2, Will Bond followed with a 3 of his own. And that was just the beginning of his—and the Dawgs’—3-point barrage. In the quarter, Bond would hit two more 3’s, Ben Schroeter would net another, and Mike DePersia would get in on the act. Those 6 3’s helped the Dawgs jump out to a 26-13 lead after 8 minutes. In the 2nd, while the defense held West Deptford to 8 points, offensively, the Dawgs put 19 more points on the board. Bond got his fourth 3, Lew Evans knocked one in, and at the half, the Dawgs were up by 15, 45-20.
In the second half, the Dawgs slowed down a bit point-wise, although they would swoosh in three more 3’s, as DePersia got his second while sophomore Ben Cerrato came in off the bench to get one (he finished with 8) and Dylan Heine, more a points-in-the-paint player, also hit one from beyond the arc to finish with 9. Again, DePersia (14) and Bond (16) were the top scorers for the Dawgs.
1/11/18 @ Gateway
Gateway would be the only Colonial Conference game I did not make during the season; 5:30 weeknight away games down 295 are tough, and since I suspected the Gators weren’t going to be too tough to tame, I took the opportunity to go watch the Lady Dawgs take on the Lady Gators at East. Their game was at the reasonable time of 7, and before it was over, the DePersia contingency arrived (Mike’s twin Natalie plays for the girls team in case you didn’t know) with the word that indeed the Dawgs had easily dispatched Gateway by 50 points, 92-42.
1/13/18 @ Overbrook
Overbrook was supposed to actually have been the Dawgs’ first game of 2018, but it was postponed due to snow. (Altogether, weather would result in the rescheduling of five games, including the Group 2 state semi-final; I’m not 100% sure, but I think this has to be a record, or close to it, for postponements in a season.) So instead of a 7 p.m. Thursday game, the Dawgs and Rams met up on a Saturday afternoon. This would be the first of three games Mikey DePersia would sit out due to the swelling in his knee, so Ben Schroeter’s brother Mike stepped into the starting lineup. (Ben and Mike are actually two-thirds of a set of triplets. Brother Chris played last season but did not continue on this year.) Dan Fleming, meanwhile, also sat out the game and rumor had it he had broken the thumb on his shooting hand … Luckily, as it turned out, both Mikey and Danny would be back on the floor the next game.
The Dawgs put 9 on the board before the Rams managed 1-2 from the foul line. Will Bond and Aiden Blake combined for those 9. After the Rams’ free throw, Bond got a 2, his second 3, and it was 14-1, Dawgs with just under 4 minutes left in the quarter. After Overbrook got its first field goal, the next Dawg points would come from, you guessed it, Bond, who nailed his third trey to push the Dawgs’ lead up to 17-3. And he wasn’t done yet. After another bucket by the Rams, Bond connected on his 4th 3-pointer of the quarter, making it 20-5, with Bond having contributed 13 of those 20 points. The Rams got one more basket and a follow-up foul shot, and Blake finished the Dawgs’ scoring—on a nice cross-court pass from Bond, giving the Dawgs a 22-8 edge after 1.
The Rams were able to get a few more balls in the net in the 2nd quarter, while Bond and Blake added to their totals. Sam and Dyl Heine each got a bucket, and Lew Evans went up and in twice. At the half, the Dawgs were in control, 38-20.
Evans got hot in the third, draining a 3, a 2, and hitting 3 foul shots. Ben S. knocked down a 3 as well, and baskets from Bond, Blake, both the Heines, and Mike S. added up to the 25 that the Dawgs put on the board, giving them a commanding 63-28 lead heading into the last quarter. The Dawgs would end up with a 78-38 win, their 9th straight, keeping them undefeated both in and out of the conference. Bond finished with 26; Evans, 14; and Blake, 13.
With DePersia and Fleming back, the Dawgs’ starting lineup was in tact for their “home” game versus the Wave. However, after this game, the Dawgs would “wave” good-bye to that lineup for almost the entire season …
This was one of those games when you had to start pulling for the other team to score … This was because after Aiden Blake (AB in my notepad) got the first bucket for Haddonfield and then Audubon answered (AB in my notepad, do you see the problem I would have here when I was reviewing my play-by-play later that night at home?), the Wave would not score again until the 2:31 mark in the second quarter! The Dawgs would score 35 unanswered points, 20 to finish out the quarter, and then the first 15 points in the second. When an Audubon player finally got the team’s second bucket, I think just about everyone cheered, and not mockingly (well, at least not the adult Dawg fans).
That made it 37-4, but not for long, as a 3 by Ben S. made it 40-4 with just under 2 minutes until the half. The Dawgs fans were loving it, the bench was loving it … This was going to be a fun game to watch if you were rooting for the Red and Black. But then after Audubon got its second basket in less than 60 seconds, the Wave got the ball back and Will Bond tried to take an offensive charge. He went down hard, landing on his hands. He got the charge, stepped to the foul line with 55.6 showing on the clock, and uncharacteristically missed both shots. Clearly, he was not OK. After Fleming got the offensive board off Bond’s second free throw attempt and scored, Haddonfield had to call a TO so Bond could exit the court. When the team headed to the locker room, they may have been ahead by 36, 42-6, but the upbeat mood from only moments earlier had suddenly turned somber.
The ugly turn of events seemed to take some of the air out of the Dawgs in the third, as their offensive production dropped a bit. They still outscored Audubon 13-4, however, and went into the last quarter up by 45, 55-10. When the buzzer sounded, the Dawgs had gotten their most lopsided W of the year, 70-17, but with word coming to the fans that it looked like Will’s wrist was broken, no one was smiling about the score. Instead, most of us heading out to the cold night air and the Cherry Hill Eat parking lot were wondering that if Will Bond was done for the season, were the Dawgs’ hopes of going deep into the playoffs done too?
1/18/18 @ Woodbury
No one walking into the home court of the Thundering Herd two nights later wanted to see Lew Evans barely hobbling around in a boot or hear that he was going to be out for up to 3 weeks. Meanwhile, sophomore Ben Cerrato, who played more JV than varsity but was getting some late-game varsity action, was also now out indefinitely, having suffered a concussion at the end of the Gateway game. But the worst news of all was confirmation that Will Bond had indeed broken his wrist during the Audubon game: His season and his high school basketball career were now apparently over.
Despite all these disheartening, to say the least, updates, the Dawgs who took their positions for the game-starting jump ball—Dylan Heine, Dan Fleming (who was now having ankle issues :-/), Aiden Blake, Mike DePersia, and Ben Schroeter—looked focused and ready to play. Dyl’s three baskets, two in the paint and one nice outside floater; Fleming’s two buckets; a 2 from Dyl’s big bro, Sam; and the 3 from Blake that started it all put the Dawgs up 15-5 with 1:22 left in the first quarter. The Herd got a 2 and a 3 to close out the quarter and cut it to a 15-10 edge for the Dawgs.
In the second quarter it was Mikey’s 6, along with baskets from Blake, Fleming, and Dyl, that upped the Dawgs’ lead to 29-20 at the half. Ben Schroeter took over in the third, hitting 2 foul shots, a 3 and a pair of 2-pointers. As the 4th quarter started, the Dawgs seemed to have a comfortable 12-point lead, up 46-34. That lead continued to look comfortable when a drive by DePersia made it 53-37 Dawgs with 5 and change left in the game. But then Woodbury, which had hit a good number of 3’s already, hit back-to-back-to-back treys. All the sudden, that 16-point cushion was down to 7, 53-46, with 4 minutes remaining.
A basket by Fleming on a nice feed from Blake got the lead back to 9, 55-46, but the Herd got the next two baskets, a 2 and a 3, to make it 55-51 with 2:05 showing on the clock. Ben S. took the ball to the hoop off a pass from Dyl, making it 57-51 with 1:41 left in the game. To the relief of the Dawg fans who had been getting a bit worried, Woodbury’s next 3 did not go in, so with 1:29 left, it was still a 57-51 game.
Haddonfield’s final 6 points came from DePersia foul shots. After he hit 3 out of 4 to make it 60-51 with 27 seconds remaining, Woodbury hit 2 from the foul line. But seconds later, DePersia was back on the line and banked both shots. With 21.9 seconds to go, the Dawgs were on top 62-53, yet the Thundering Herd were not about to go quietly. A basket and a foul shot made it 62-56, but time was not on the Herd’s side. Mikey made one more free throw to make it a 63-56 game, and that would be the final score. DePersia would finish with 18; 10 of those points came from foul shots. Ben S. and Fleming each had 13.
1/23/18 @ Paulsboro
In the not too distant past, a game versus the Red Raiders, especially an away game, as this one was, often brought on indigestion and/or left a bad taste in the Haddonfield contingency. So, as I sat in the gym waiting for the teams to head to mid-court for the jump ball, knowing we were without Will and Lew, I was a bit apprehensive, especially since this was the game after the Dawgs 11-0, season-long winning streak had been snapped. (More on that in the “A (Non)League of Their Own” section.) I need not have worried.
From the get-go, there was no indication that the defeat or their depleted ranks were impacting the Dawgs, who merely had their best offensive first quarter of the season, raking up 27 points to the Raiders’ 13. Dan Fleming, showing no ill signs of broken thumbs or sprained ankles, put up 9 points from the floor, including a 3. Aiden Blake added 7, also knocking down a 3, Mike DePersia made a 3 and 2 foul shots, and the Heine bros combined for 6 points as well. The hot shooting cooled considerably in the 2nd quarter; the Dawgs only put 9 on the board, but the Raiders only mustered 6, so the score at the half was 36-19, Haddonfield.
The Dawgs’ offense picked back up in the 3rd. After a 2-point bunker from Dyl got the scoring started, Ben S. followed with back-to-back buckets, a 3 and a 2. Dyl would score three more times, including a dandy shot off an in-bound pass; Sam had 2 more baskets, including one in which he maneuvered around defenders; and Fleming had another field goal and a foul shot. When the 4th period started, the Dawgs were up by 30, 57-27. Paulsboro would out-shoot Haddonfield 12-8 in the final 8 minutes, but it didn’t really matter; the damage had already been done. When the buzzer sounded, the Dawgs had a new winning streak going, leaving with a 65-39 victory. The Heines had 31 of Haddonfield’s 57: Dyl finished with 18 and Sam with 13. Dan Fleming had 15.
Back at “home” 2 nights later, the Dawgs had another route, this time against the Lions of Lindenwold, even with Mike DePersia sidelined again with a swollen knee and Lew Evans still wearing a boot. Dyl Heine and Aiden Blake helped to pick up the slack, scoring 19 and 17 points, respectively. Eleven of Dyl’s 19 came in the 3rd.Several Dawgs came in off the bench to contribute to the 74-33 win, including senior Barry Bealor (4), junior Luke Gallagher (4), and sophomore Drew Gostovich (5). And we finally had some good injury news: Ben Cerrato, cleared to return, played for parts of the first 2 quarters, and also made a basket.
Haddon Township, 1/30/18
The Hawks flew in to Cherry Hill East for their only matchup of the year with the Dawgs. The first 6.30 of the game was fairly competitive. Although the Dawgs jumped out to a 5-0 run on a 2 from Mike DePersia and a 3 from Dan Fleming, an answering 3 from “Twip” made it 5-3. Fleming got a 2, but a Hawks’ player made a nice move to score in the paint and keep it a 2-point, 7-5 game. DePersia nailed a 3, the Hawks came back with a 2, and it was 10-7 at the 1:53 mark.
In the last 1:30 minutes, the Dawgs scored almost as many points as they did in the first 6:30 minutes. First, Ben Schroeter got an offensive board and scored, making it 12-7, and a steal and a layup by DePersia upped the Dawgs’ lead to 14-7. A good defensive effort by Dyl Heine caused an out-of-bounds call on Twip, and in the resulting Dawg possession, his pass to Fleming resulted in another 2 on the board for Haddonfield. With 53 seconds left, it was 16-7, Haddonfield. After the Dawgs were called for a foul, DePersia pilfered the ball and again scored, making it 18-7. A shooting foul against the Dawgs sent the Hawks to the free throw line with 16.6 seconds remaining, and their two made shots broke up the Dawgs’ 8-0 run. The quarter would end on a nice outside hook by Aiden Blake.
The Dawgs scored 16 points in the 2nd quarter, led by four baskets from Fleming, including another 3. However, it was a defensive play that put yet another Dawg on the DL. Sam Heine was trying to block the move of a Hawks’ player in the paint and caught an elbow to the nose. It was not a pretty sight. He left the game in quite a bit of pain. Because the gym for almost all games at Cherry Hill East was set up with only the bleachers across from the players’ “benches” pulled out, concerned fans had no choice but to then watch Heine bleeding profusely as he was tended to by the Haddonfield trainer Jamie Ricker.
Meanwhile, after a momentary delay, the game continued. Even though the Hawks added 12 to their tally, when the two teams headed off the court at halftime (and Sam exited the building altogether), the Dawgs were up 36-21. In the second half, despite the fact that the Hawks only put 4 less points on the board that the Dawgs, Haddonfield won 63-44—but lost another player—and came away with its 11th straight Colonial Conference win of the season. A few nights later, that streak would be put to the test …
2/1/18 @ Haddon Heights
After having taken care of all their in-league rivals once, it was time to start meeting up again with the teams in the Liberty division. First up were the Garnets, who the Dawgs had topped 6 weeks earlier by 8, 58-50. The rematch began with Heights getting the jump ball, which Mike DePersia promptly swiped and passed to Ben Schroeter, who swooshed in a 3. But at the other end, Heights answered with a 3 that dropped in off the backboard. I have enough trouble keeping track of who is making the points, the passes, the rebounds, and the tough defense for Haddonfield, so I don’t even attempt to scribble opponents’ names down in my notepad. I suspect, however, that the Garnets’ bucket was compliments of senior guard Jared Latane. He would be one busy guy for the next 26 minutes of the game.
Right after that trey tied the game, Ben S. got an offensive rebound and dropped in another 3, putting the Dawgs back up 6-3. Heights got the next 6 on a 3, a 2, and follow-up foul shot to take its first, but hardly last, lead of the night, 9-6. Dan Fleming’s 2 made it 9-8, but another 3 put Heights up by 4, 12-8. Foul shots by Fleming and a layup by Aiden Blake from a DePersia dish tied it at 12-12 with 2:30 remaining in the quarter. After Heights edged ahead with 2 foul shots, a 3 from Fleming gave the Dawgs’ a fleeting lead, but Heights (probably Latane) closed out the quarter with back-to-back treys to go up 5, 20-15.
Fleming got fouled while driving to the basket for 2. His foul shot made it 20-18, Heights. The quick hands of Aiden Blake resulted in a steal and his game-tying basket. Two foul shots swung the lead back to the Garnets. Lew Evans, who saw some limited minutes in this, his first game back after his ankle injury, was fouled and made 1-2, and at the other end, Evans got the defensive board. He passed it to Blake, who handed it off to Ben S. He scored and was fouled in the process. His “and 1” gave the Dawgs a 3-point, 24-21, advantage with a little more than 2 minutes gone in the second.
The lead would shift back and forth the next few times the teams went up the court and back. Mikey’s 2 made it 26-25, Dawgs, but Heights scored 2 and got an extra point at the foul line to give the Garnets the upper-hand, 28-25, with 5 minutes left in the half. That lead increased to 30-26 before Ben S. got his second 3 to cut the Dawgs’ deficit down to 1, 30-29. A 3 from Heights pushed its lead back to 4, 33-29, but a floater by DePersia halved it to 33-31. Dyl Heine blocked one shot under the basket, but the Garnets got the rebound and the follow-up shot went in. With 2:03 on the clock, Evans drained a 3 to make it 35-34, Heights. The Garnets did not score their next possession, so the Dawgs came down to their basket with a chance to grab the lead back, and Mikey made sure that opportunity was not wasted. His shot switched the 1-point edge back to Haddonfield. Both teams swapped a pair of turnovers before Heights got a shot off just ahead of the buzzer to take that 1-point lead back, making it 37-36, Garnets as the teams left the court.
The Garnets got 2 field goals to begin the third quarter before Fleming made 1-2 from the line. His feed to Dyl Heine got the Dawgs back to within 2, 41-39, with 1:20 gone in the third, but Latane’s 3 (he apparently did not miss a shot during the first 2 quarters and barely missed any the second two) got Heights’ lead back to 5, 44-39. This time, Dyl hit a 2 and Heights responded with a 3, giving them their largest lead, 6 points, 47-41, of the contest, with just under 4 minutes to go. After what seemed to Dawgs’ fans like a bad out-of-bounds call against Haddonfield, the Garnets scored again, this time a 2, to push their lead to 8, 49-41 with 3:02 on the clock. Dyl drove in for 2. A Dawg foul put the Garnets on the line, and they got 1-2 to reach 50 to the Dawgs’ 43. Blake plucked an offensive board and put the ball back in the net, getting the Dawgs back to within 5, 50-45, with 2 minutes left in the 3rd. A few plays later, Fleming’s 2 foul shots made it 50-47, but the Garnets got those 2 points back with a field goal. Mikey knocked down a 3 and it was 52-50, Heights, but just like they did to finish out the 2nd, the Garnets snuck in a 2 just ahead of the buzzer. That put them up 54-50 going into the last 8 minutes of the game.
Haddonfield inbounded and Dyl wasted no time scoring his third basket of the half, getting the Dawgs to within 2, 54-52. I’m sure I wasn’t the only Dawg fan in the bleachers who felt trapped inside a hoops’ version of Groundhog’s Day, because Heights came back with a 3 to keep the lead at 5, 57-52. A 2-point field goal after Haddonfield did not score made it 59-52 with 4:32 left in the game. After the Dawgs missed another chance to cut into the Garnets’ lead, Blake picked up his 4th foul. Dyl picked off the ball as Heights was attempting to in-bound it, but for the third straight time, the Dawgs could not get a shot to drop in the net.
After retaining possession off a kicked ball, Heights called a time-out with just under 4 minutes to go. Blake ended the Dawgs’ dry spell by poaching the ball and taking it cross court and scoring, which got the Garnets’ lead back down to 5, 59-54 with 3:35 left. He was fouled but did not get the extra point. After Heights got a 2, Mikey hit a 3, and with 2:59 on the clock, the Dawgs had clawed back to within 4, 61-57. A goaltending call against the Dawgs at the other end of the court put the Garnets back up by 6, 63-57. Dyl came through with another basket to make it a 4-point, 63-59, Heights lead. The Dawgs missed a chance to whittle that lead down more with a missed foul shot on the front end of a 1+1 with 1:06 to go. The Dawgs had to foul as the clock wound down to 19.8 seconds. Heights was able to convert both ends of the 1+1 to go back up by 6, 65-59. DePersia was fouled seconds later (5.3 seconds, to be exact). He made the front end of the 1+1 but missed his second shot.
With his team down by 5, 60-55, DePersia committed his 5th foul and was done for the night. This time, the Garnets did not convert the first shot of the 1+1, but after a missed field goal attempt, the Dawgs lost the ball out of bounds with 5.4 seconds left. Again, Haddonfield had to foul; this time, Blake would commit his 5th and join DePersia on the bench. Heights made 1-2 to go up 66-60 with 4.3 on the clock. With the game all but over, the Dawgs finally got a basket—a 3-pointer from Ben S.—on the buzzer. The points counted, but didn’t really matter. The Garnets had given the Dawgs their first defeat in conference play, their third overall.
According to the next day’s Inquirer, Jared Latane led all scorers with 30. Despite the loss, the Dawgs had three players in double-digits: Dan Fleming had 17, Ben Schroeter had 15, and Mike DePersia had 13.
In their next conference rematch, the Dawgs were looking put Sterling away for the second time. The opening quarter started out well, with the Dawgs scoring the first two baskets of the game on a 3 by Dan Fleming and 2 foul shots by Aiden Blake. The Silver Knights got their first basket to make it 5-2, and so it went for about the first 6 minutes of the game. Blake scored a pair of field goals interspersed with a Sterling basket and then a Sterling free throw, to make it 9-5, Haddonfield, with 3:39 left. Fleming got another 2, and so did Sterling. A Mike DePersia foul shot and yet another Blake basket, this time one of his famous cross-court numbers, gave the Dawgs a 6-point, 14-8, lead with 2:32 remaining in the first. However, Sterling would get back-to-back buckets for the first time, a 2 and a 3, and with 90 seconds on the clock, the Knights had gotten to within 1, 14-13. The Dawgs had trouble finding the basket in those last seconds, either missing shots or turning the ball over, and when Sterling got its third basket it a row, it went up 15-14 to pull ahead to finish out the scoring in the quarter.
The second quarter did not improve. In fact, things got worse. While holding the Dawgs to only 7 points, the Knights doubled that total, and galloped off the court at the half up by 8, 29-21. This left Dawg fans hoping this wasn’t going to be the second straight conference loss after 11 straight wins.
The Dawgs came out shooting in the third. Mikey made a nice hook shot, Aiden followed with a layup, and a few plays later, hit 2 from the foul line. But just after the Dawgs had gotten to within 2, 29-27, Sterling launched a 3. Mikey answered with 3 of his own, the 2 and 1 kind, to make it 32-30, and again the Knights responded with a trey, going back up by 5, 35-30. After an offensive rebound and basket by Dyl Heine, Mikey stole the ball, and Dyl’s second bucket in about 30 seconds brought the Dawgs to within 1 with 5 minutes to go in the 3rd. Sterling finally had a possession that didn’t result in a basket, Blake grabbed the rebound, and Mikey got fouled driving into the basket. His one foul shot brought the game even at 35 after 3:30 had gone by in the quarter.
A few plays later, Mikey’s field goal gave the Dawgs the lead, 37-35, for the first time since the 4:50 mark in the second quarter. Sterling got a too-easy basket at the other end to tie it again at 37. After originally calling an offensive foul on DePersia, the refs huddled and reversed it to a foul on Sterling. That led to a 3 by Blake, and after he scored, he pick-pocketed the ball and handed it off to DePersia, who got a nice roll for his 10th point of the quarter, putting the Dawgs up by 5, 42-37. The Knights would get the next two baskets to get back to within 1, 42-41, with 1:37 left, but the Dawgs finished up the quarter with a flourish, scoring the next 9 points, 7 of which were made by Dyl, who hit a 3 on the buzzer. Going into the final 8 minutes, the Dawgs had gone from being down by 8 to being up by 10, 51-41.
Whatever momentum the Dawgs had at the end of the 3rd didn’t exactly carry over to the 4th. After Sterling got the first point going 1-2 from the foul line, the Dawgs got their first points on a basket by Fleming, getting that double-digit lead back. However, Sterling fired off the next 8, on consecutive 3’s and then a 2, and all the sudden, that 11-point edge was down to 3, 53-50. After scrambling on the floor for a loose ball, DePersia was fouled coming up with it. He made 1-2 to push the Dawgs’ lead back to 54-50 with 4:31 to go in the game. The teams traded turnovers in their next possessions, before Ben S. would step to the line, having been fouled pulling down an offensive board. He made both shots to make it 56-50.
Sterling would get to within 4, 56-52 with 2:31 on the clock, but that was as close as the Knights got for the rest of the game. The Dawgs would get almost all their remaining points from the foul line. Mikey would go 4-4, and Fleming would add another plus a basket. A near last-second 3 by Sterling cut the Dawgs’ 9-point lead down to 6, 63-57, and Mikey was fouled twice as the clock finally wound down to 0 but nobody on the court with a whistle blew it. No matter. The Dawgs’ 30-point offensive surge in the 3rd helped them get back to their winning ways within the conference. Mikey finished with 19; Aiden, 15; and Dan, 14.
2/9/18 @ Collingswood
The Dawgs, well, at least their fans, were ready for a stress-free game. The trip down Haddon Ave. to Collins Ave. provided that chance. The first quarter was rather slow-moving, as the teams only combined for 12 points: 9 by the Dawgs, 3 by the Panthers. Lew Evans matched the Panthers’ score by nailing a 3. The Dawgs were able to up their input to 12 points themselves in the 2nd period. However, the Panthers only managed 2, on separate trips to the foul line in the last 4 minutes of the half. The score as the teams headed for their locker rooms was Haddonfield 21, Collingswood 5.
The Panthers’ offensive struggles continued into the 3rd; again their only 2 points came from a pair of 1-2 efforts at the foul line. The Dawgs fared a bit better, putting up 16 points. Aiden Blake and Dan Fleming each had a basket; Dyl had a pair; Ben Schroeter hit one from behind the arc; and Mike DePersia had a bucket and 3 foul shots. The last quarter, Coach Paul Wiedeman pulled out all the starters and the guys who took their place put up 14 points: Seniors Barry Bealor and Charlie Foley combined for 9 points; sophomore Steve McClane had 2, and fellow soph Ben Cerrato notched a 3. The Panthers finally got going and made it into double-digits. The Dawgs came away with a 54-17 win without having to work up too much of a sweat and without their followers having to pop any antacids.
On Jan. 13, the Dawgs gave the Rams a tough time on their home court, winning by 40, 78-38. One month later, the outcome of their second meeting was nearly identical: Dawgs 75, Rams 38. The first quarter was the most competitive, even though it ended with Overbrook trailing by 8, 23-15. Dan Fleming had 9 of the Dawgs’ points, Lew Evans, 5. By half, the Dawgs’ lead had spread to 14, 39-25, with Mike DePerisa and Aiden Blake each dropping in 6 points. They kept it up in the third; Mikey added in another 5, while Aiden’s four field goals put up 8. In the last 8 minutes, Ben Schroeter hit one of his 3-point bombs; Sam Heine, back on the floor for the first time since the Township game at the end of January, had a bucket, as did Evans and Fleming. The “youngsters”—Ben Cerrato, Steve McClane, Luke Gallagher, and Colin Fell—came in, and each put 2 on the board as well. Blake led the Dawgs with 18; Mikey had 13, and Dan, 12.
2/15/18, West Deptford
It was Senior Night at the borrowed home of the Haddonfield Dawgs. This is always a bittersweet event, as it’s both a time to applaud and to begin to say good-bye to not only the players, but the cheerleaders and the statisticians. This time it was bittersweet for another reason: Will Bond was not going to be playing. However, another senior, though not usually in the starting lineup, was going to have his best game of the season; you could even say he would help the Dawgs win—by a nose.
As is tradition, Coach Wiedeman’s starting five on this special night were all seniors: Charlie Foley, Barry Bealor, Sam Heine, and the Schroeter bros, Ben and Mike. The jump ball went to the Eagles, who promptly landed a 3 in the net. But the Dawgs rattled off the next 9 points on 2’s by Barry, Mike S., and Sam, and a signature 3 from Ben S. After a basket by West Deptford, Mike S. hit a 3, making it 12-5 with 3:37 left in the opening quarter. After another 2 from the Eagles, Bealor got an offensive board, passed it to Sam under the basket, and Heine got his second bucket of the game. About 30 seconds later, he was fouled going up and in again. Both his free throws were good, and with 2:37 on the clock, the Dawgs were up 16-8. A 2 by West Deptford made it 16-10 before Foley hit nothing but net behind the arc to give the Dawgs a 9-point, 19-9, lead. To say the student Dawg fans went wild when Foley’s ball dropped would be an understatement. The Eagles did get the last shot of the quarter, to get back to within 7, but the seniors had done well—each had scored at least once—as they turned the ball over to Mike DePersia, Aiden Blake, Lew Evans, Dan Fleming, and Dyl Heine.
Coach Wiedeman, sometimes by necessity, had utilized more than just one or two players off the bench nearly each of the Dawgs’ first 22 games of the season. That’s probably one reason why he kept putting all the seniors back in the lineup for the next three quarters. And they kept scoring too. In the second quarter, it was no surprise to see the player known in his younger, pre-high school days, as “Midcourt Mikey” (well, at least that’s what I called him) swoosh in a 3. It was, however, a bit more unexpected to see someone who got most of his points in the paint do the same, but that’s exactly what Sam Heine did. (The student fans got pretty loud over that too.) Blake added 3 from the foul line and 2 from the floor, Fleming made a bucket and a foul shot, and Dyl also had a field goal. The score at the half was 37-22, Dawgs.
The seniors kicked it up a notch in the third: Ben S., Bealor, and Foley each knocked down 3’s. Mike S. and Sam Heine made 2-point baskets. The non-seniors did their part too: Dyl and Mikey added field goals, and Dan’s 3 gave the Dawgs 9 treys in 24 minutes. With 8 minutes to go, the Dawgs had twice as many points (and 1) than the Eagles and were in control, 59-28. The Dawgs out-scored the Eagles by only 4 in the 4th, but that was OK. On their night, the seniors had reigned supreme, combining for 41 of the Dawgs’ 72 points. (The final score was 72-37.) And the senior who led all scorers was the one wearing the nose guard: Sam Heine had his best game of the season, finishing with 13.
In a (Non-)League of Their Own
Haddonfield would play 10 non-conference opponents during the regular season, the maximum number allowed. While there were a few nail-biting Colonial Conference games, these 10 contests were really what prepared Haddonfield for and propelled it through the playoffs. I missed the first 4: Moorestown on 12/16/17 (we won, 55-51); two tournament games over the Christmas break at Washington Township—Egg Harbor Township on 12/28/17 (we won, 72-53) and Pennsauken, 12/30/17 (we won, 69-44).
And then there was the Wildwood Catholic game on 1/20/18. This was initially billed as one of the marque matchups of the Shoot Down Cancer Classic at St. Augustine, but then Will broke his wrist, Mikey was nursing his swollen ankle, Dan’s thumb had him sidelined, and Lew’s sprained ankle had “booted” him from playing. Expectations dropped considerably. Instead of a much-anticipated showdown, this was now predicted to be a wipeout. However, even with its less-than-intact squad, the Dawgs still had some bite left in them. In the article by Inquirer sportswriter Phil Anastasia, which I referenced earlier, Anastasia quotes Dawgs’ coach Paul Wiedeman as saying, “What a great job these kids did. We were just trying to hang in there, hang in there, hang in there, and then all of the sudden in the fourth quarter, we had the lead.” That lead came on a 3-pointer by Ben Schroeter, which put the Dawgs up 35-33 with just over 3:30 to play. Although the Crusaders would come back in the last minutes to win by 3, 40-37, giving Haddonfield their first loss of the year, it many ways that defeat was turned into a positive. In looking back, it may even have been one of the defining moments of the season. Despite a depleted lineup that made the odds not in their favor, the Dawgs showed they were not about to roll over and play dead any time they came up against a little bit of adversity.
I did get to the five of the remaining six non-league games. Here’s what I saw.
1/27/18 @ Rancocas High School vs. Ewing
The Dawgs have taken part the last several years in the Jeff Coney Classic at Rancocas Valley Regional High School. The Classic pays tribute to the Coney, who played and then came back to coach basketball at RV before his sudden death in 2004. This year, the Dawgs’ opponents were the Blue Devils of Ewing High School, out of the Colonial Valley Conference, who had won four out of their last five games. The Dawgs didn’t have too much trouble bringing that streak to an end.
Dan Fleming sparked the offense in the first 8 minutes. His 9 points helped the Dawgs jump out to an 18-3 lead, The Devils did get into double-digits in the 2nd quarter—barely—while the Dawgs tacked on 14 more; 8 of those points came from the free throw line. Dyl Heine’s two field goals and Fleming’s one made up the rest of the scoring, and going into the break, Haddonfield was ahead by 21, 32-11.
Quarter 3 was more of the same—literally. The Dawgs got 14 more points. Mikey DePersia got 6 from the foul like, and Ben Schroeter got 2. The pair also added a bucket each, while Aiden Blake got the third 2-pointer. The Devils did start getting baskets to drop and actually almost matched the Dawgs’ output, putting 13 on the board. Rather amazingly, all of the Dawgs’ 16 4th-quarter points came off of foul shots. Mikey made 6 more, Ben S. had 4, and Dyl had 2. While it wasn’t the most exciting game, the Dawgs won 60-44. Mikey finished with 16; 10 were of the foul shot variety. Dan knocked in 11, and Dyl, 10.
2/3/18 @ Bishop Eustace versus Shipley (Shipley, Pa.)
This was a 10 a.m. Saturday game that came not even 2 full days after the Dawgs were upended by Haddon Heights. Shipley, Haddonfield’s draw in the Bishop Eustace Tri-County Showcase, was considered a top team in its region of Pennsylvania, and all things considered, the odds of Haddonfield winning were not high. Apparently, the Dawgs had adopted the Han Solo motto of “Never tell me the odds,” for this would not be the only game of the season the Dawgs were expected to lose but didn’t.
Mike DePersia, who was 15 points away from 1,000, got the ball rolling with a 3. Dan Fleming did the same after the Gators’ shot went in and out. Shipley scored and then scored again on a steal to make it 6-4 with just about 2 minutes gone in the 1st. Fleming got a 2 on a nice assist from DePersia, and a few plays later after a pick-off by Dyl Heine, would get another 2, pushing the lead up to 6. 10-4. But again, Shipley would score on back-to-back possessions, hitting a 3, then a 2 to get to within 1, 10-9, with just under 4 minutes left in the quarter.
After some good all-around Dawg defense and a defensive board by Aiden Blake, Fleming got his 4th basket of the quarter to make it 12-9. DePersia got a steal and a field goal at the other end and was fouled in the process. His free throw made it 15-9. What looked like a cleanly blocked shot by Fleming was called a foul, and the Gators got 2 back on the free throw line. After the Dawgs failed to score, Shipley got 2 from the floor to make it a 2-point game, 15-13, with less than 2 minutes to go. A Gator grab got the ball back and set up a 2 that tied it 15-15 with 1:36 on the clock. Fleming got fouled picking up an offensive board. He made 1-2 to give the Dawgs a 1-point edge, and after another pick-off by DePersia, Blake got his first basket of the game. The Gators’ heave at the buzzer did not drop, and at the end of 1, the Dawgs had managed to get back on top by 3, 18-15.
The Dawgs only mustered 8 points in the second quarter, 6 by Mikey, which got him to 997 points, and 2 by Blake. The Gators equaled their first quarter score, which meant at the half, they were up 4, 30-26.
Pretty much everyone in the Haddonfield cheering section knew Mikey needed 3 points to reach the 1,000 milestone. I was hoping he would get it in one fell swoop, and he did—on Haddonfield’s first possession of the third. His basket, which brought the Dawgs to within 1, 29-30, also brought play to a temporary halt so his coaches, teammates, and the Dawg fans could appropriately acknowledge his accomplishment. After receiving kudos from the floor, Mikey headed up into the bleachers so he could give his proud mama, Janet, a hug (sniff).
After Mikey had made it back onto the court, play resumed. Blake got the ball back and then kept it with Haddonfield by procuring an offensive rebound and finishing it off with a basket to give the Dawgs the lead again. His foul shot made it 32-30. The Gators did not score, Blake got another board, and DePersia got his point total up to 1,002 on a tip-in off a missed Dawg shot. That made it 34-30, but Shipley answered with a 3. Haddonfield didn’t score, but a Shipley turnover gave the Dawgs back the ball, and Fleming took advantage of the second chance by going up and in for 2. That made it 36-33, Dawgs, until the Gators’ second straight trey knotted the game at 36 all with 4:01 remaining.
Neither team scored for a few trips up and down the court. Then, with 2:49 on the clock, DePersia drove the ball up and in the paint to break the tie and put the Dawgs back on top 38-36. The Gators got a basket and took the lead on a foul shot. A misfire by the Dawgs gave Shipley the chance to add to its lead, but DePersia foiled that opportunity with another steal. He picked up another assist on a basket by Lew Evans that swung the lead back to the Dawgs, 40-39, with 1:35 to go in the 3rd. A floater by Dyl Heine made it 42-39, Haddonfield, with .50 left. Nice defense by Fleming got the Dawgs back the ball, but a travel call gave it right back to Shipley. A non-shooting foul on Haddonfield kept it possession Gators, and with 14.7 on the clock, the Gators nailed a 3 to tie it all up one more time and make it 42 all going into the last quarter.
The Dawgs inbounded to start the 4th, and Dyl broke the tie with a 2-pointer. Blake got another pick-off, and DePersia got an offensive rebound and another 2 points to make it 46-42. After Shipley lost the ball out of bounds, Dyl got 2 more on a roll in. Dyl, in fact, was on a roll and would score one more time, and in 2 minutes, the Dawgs had gone up 8, 50-42. However, 60 seconds later, after back-to-back 3’s, the Gators had battled to get it back to a 1-possession, 2-point game, 50-48. Haddonfield lost the ball after a bad shot, and with 3:52 left in the game, Shipley brought the match even once more, tying it at 50 all.
Both teams had some sloppy play their next possessions, and more than 60 seconds would tick off the clock before DePersia made it 52-50 with 2:38 left. The Gators answered with 2, Blake tipped the lead back to the Dawgs, 54-52, with just under 2 minutes to go, but again the Gators answered, and it was 54 all with 1:39 remaining. Blake came through to make it 56-54 with 1:19 showing on the scoreboard. That was as close at the Gators would get. Fleming’s 2 made it 58-52, and DePersia closed out the scoring with a pair from the foul line. And in a game that they were not supposed to win, the Dawgs pulled an upset on the Gators. The newest member of the Haddonfield 1,000-point club finished with 25. Fleming, who scored 10 of his points in the first quarter, finished with 14, and Blake had 11.
2/10/18 @ Cherry Hill East vs. BCIT–Westampton
This was technically not supposed to be a “home” game for the Dawgs. It was, instead, scheduled to be one of several games at the annual Cherry Hill East tournament. However, when I stepped into the building, expecting to see a line, as is usually the case when this tournament takes place in early February, I saw no one. The room where you go to get your hand stamped after you pay to get in was empty. I ended up walking right into the gym without having to flash my press pass. I found out later that the bad weather from the previous day had led to several out-of-the-area teams canceling, and the only game that ended up being played was the matchup between Haddonfield and BCIT–Westampton. (And in case you aren’t entirely sure what BCIT stands for, it’s Burlington County Institute of Technology; in addition to Westampton, there is a Medford campus.)
This contest was one of those that fell into the not-quite-a-blowout but not a hold-your-breath-at-the-end either category. The first period, though, would be back and forth. The Dawgs scored the first 6 points on baskets by Mike DePersia, Aiden Blake, and Dan Fleming before the Panthers got the next two baskets to make it 6-4, Dawgs with 3 minutes gone in the first. Mikey’s second bucket made it a 4-point lead, but again the Panthers scored two times in a row, tying it at 8 with 4 minutes gone. After a basket by Dyl Heine, Westampton came right back and scored; Blake scored, and so did Westampton, and with 1:18 to go in the quarter, it was tied for the third time at 12. Mikey’s 3 with just under a minute left made it 15-12. The Panthers played stall ball to go for the last shot, and within a 4-second span, Lew Evans picked up two fouls. He got some redemption though by nailing a 3 on the buzzer to give the Dawgs an 18-12 advantage going into the 2nd.
The Dawgs started building up more of a lead in the 2nd. Evans got 1-2 from the foul line, and after the Panthers got a roll-in, Mikey let loose a 3-point blast, giving the Dawgs a 22-14 lead. After the Dawgs forced a Westampton turnover, Blake did his cross-court, 2-point maneuver, giving Haddonfield a 10-point lead. The Panthers cut that back down to 7 with a 3, but Fleming, Dyl, and Ben Schroeter, who got his own rebound off his missed shot, got baskets, and with just under 3 minutes left in the half, the Dawgs had expanded their lead to 13, 30-17. The Panthers came back with a 3, but Mikey got another bucket, keeping it a 12-point, 32-20, game with 1:20 left. Aiden’s 2 with 37 seconds on the clock would be the final basket of the half. The Dawgs walked off the court up by 14, 34-20.
The third quarter would be rather slow-moving. The Dawgs only put 9 on the board off four baskets. However, that was still 2 more than the Panthers registered. The scoring pace picked up a bit in the 4th. The Dawgs hit a pair of 3’s along with a trio of 2’s and two more from the foul line. They also held the Panthers to single digits again, 9 this time. The final score was 57-46. Mikey, Aiden, and Danny each got 12, and Lew finished with 11.
2/17/18 @ Paul VI
Partly due to rescheduling, the last three games on Haddonfield’s schedule before the playoffs began were against non-conference opponents. First up were the Eagles of Paul VI. I had to miss this game but I wasn’t too unhappy about it when I found out the Dawgs lost 45-49. Those who were there said it was a very frustrating game to watch. Haddonfield would make up for it in their next two games, though …
2/20/18 @ Glassboro
It was the Haddonfield Dawgs taking on the Glassboro Dogs 3 nights later. Watching the Dogs in warm-ups, it was easy to see why they had a reputation for being big and fast. When the game began, it was even easier to see how strong and quick the Dogs were. Glassboro sprinted off to a 13-4 lead before the Dawgs started chipping away with a bucket from Aiden Blake and a 3-pointer by Mike DePersia from way beyond the arc. A foul shot by Glassboro would be the last point of the quarter, giving them a 14-9 lead going into the second period.
In the opening seconds of the 2nd, Dan Fleming did something that’s hard to do: He hit a 3 and drew a foul. His free throw made it a 4-point play, which got the Dawgs to within 2, 14-12. After Dyl Heine pulled down a defensive board, Fleming struck again, tying the game at 14 with a 2. A basket by Blake gave the Dawgs their first lead, 16-14, with 6:47 left until halftime. That lead was short-lived, as the Dogs rattled off 7 straight to go back up 21-16 with a little more than 4 minutes remaining in the 2nd. After a Fleming 2 cut it to 21-18, the Dogs got 3 on a basket and then a foul shot in consecutive possessions. Ben Schroeter and Sam Heine buckets got the Dawgs to within 2, 24-22, but the Dogs would score the last 3 points of the half and take a 27-22 lead into the locker room.
The third began with the Dogs and Dawgs both missing shots. Their next trip down the court, Glassboro got a basket to extend their lead to 7, 29-22. Dyl got 2 at the other end, but the Dogs got those 2 right back, and held a 31-24 advantage with 6:12 left in the quarter. A Dogs’ 3 brought the lead up to 10, 34-24, and they would score a 2 before Blake stopped the Dawgs’ scoring drought. His 2 made it a 10-point, 36-26, game with 4:30. A DePersia steal got it down to 36-28 with 3 and change left in the 3rd. That would be the Dawgs’ last basket of the quarter, and the Dogs were able to put 4 more on the board to go into the last 8 minutes up by 12, 42-30.
The Dawgs hadn’t lost consecutive games all season, but as the Dawgs inbounded the ball to open the 4th, the possibility of back-to-back defeats was staring the team in the face. The Dawgs, however, did not blink. Although they did not score on the first possession, the Dawgs got the ball back after a backcourt, number 4 of the game, as a matter of fact, was called on Glassboro. Sam Heine’s shot did not find the net, but he was fouled and made both free throws. The Dogs turned the ball over for the second straight time, losing it out of bounds thanks to the pressure defense from the Dawgs, and at the other end, Dyl Heine’s basket got the Dawgs to within 8 with 6:43 remaining in the contest.
Glassboro called a timeout and after play resumed, the Dawgs caused another turnover. Mikey got fouled and his 1-2 chipped another point off the Dogs’ lead. Glassboro finally held onto the ball long enough to get a 2-pointer, and reclaiming a 9-point, 44-35, lead, but after the Dawgs missed a shot and then committed a non-shooting foul, Aiden picked-off the ball, fed it to Dyl, and with just under 5 left, the Dawgs were back to within 7, 44-37. This go-round, Dyl was the ball thief and Aiden went up and in. Suddenly, the Dawgs were within spitting distance, only down by 5.
The Dogs were clearly getting off their game and rattled, as they committed their 5th, yes, 5th, backcourt violation with a little help from Dyl. Bro Sam turned that turnover into another Dawgs’ basket, and with 4:11 on the clock, the Dawgs were within 3, 44-41. Sam was fouled on the basket, but did not convert the free throw. That actually worked to the Dawgs’ advantage, as Dyl got the offensive rebound. His basket brought the Dawgs all the way back to within 1, 44-43, and with 4:09 left to go, the Dawgs were back from the brink.
The Dogs halted the comeback momentarily with a 2 to make it a 3-point, 46-43, game. The Dawgs missed two shots under their basket, then Blake was called for a foul at the other end. Lew Evans got the ball back with a steal, dished it to Blake, and it was back to a 1-point game, but not for long. Evans stole the ball again, and after Glassboro knocked the ball out of bounds, Sam Heine drove in the paint for 2; after having been down by 12 to start the 4th, the Dawgs were now up by 1 with a little more than 2 minutes left.
Glassboro added to its woes by turning the ball over with its 6th backcourt of the game with 1:59 on the clock. Up until this one, I don’t think I’d even witnessed a game where a backcourt was called more than once. Seeing Glassboro cross the midcourt line for the sixth time—and for the third time in one quarter—was just incredible, and not in a good way, at least for their team. After Glassboro sent the ball out of bounds during the Dawgs’ next possession Coach Wiedeman called a timeout, and then the Dawgs barely got the ball onto the court in time. Mikey drove up and in, and with 1:32 left, the Dawgs were up by 3, 49-46.
Glassboro nearly lost the ball once, and then did throw the ball away on a bad pass at the 1:21 mark. The Dawgs ate seconds off the clock, and with 48.4 on the clock, the Dogs had to foul Sam Heine. He calmly sank both his foul shots, upping the Dawgs’ lead to 51-46. Blake grabbed a defensive board after the Dogs did not score, but the refs called an out-of-bounds off DePersia. After a near-steal by Dyl Heine, Haddonfield was called for its 6th team foul. It was non-shooting, so Glassboro retained the ball and this time made a basket. With 8.3 to go, the Dawgs were up by 3, meaning it was still a one-possession game.
The team needed a basket, and made sure the ball was in the hands of the expert foul-drawer, Mikey DePersia. With 5.7 seconds left, he stepped to the foul line and made both ends of a 1+1, making it a 5-point, 53-48, lead. On the sideline, Coach Wiedeman could be heard telling his players not to defend Glassboro’s last shot because the clock was going to run out. That’s how the Dogs got a final 3, uncontested, to make the final score 53-51, Haddonfield.
It was the comeback win of the year—at least at the time. And it was a result of great plays at both ends of the court, especially in the last quarter. While putting 23 points on the board, the Dawgs’ smothering defense got the Dogs unhinged. Between backcourt violations and other unforced turnovers, the Dogs were only able to add 9 points to their 3rd quarter score. The Heine brothers helped to seal the W in the last 8 minutes, as each scored 6 points. DePersia put up 5, and Blake, 4. DePersia and Dyl Heine finished with 12 points apiece, and Blake and Sam Heine each had 10.
2/22/18 @ Burlington City
We thought the Glassboro game had been full of stress and excitement. Ha! We were just getting warmed up for stress and excitement. As I watched the warm-ups, I saw another team that looked very athletic and very quick. Even the gym itself was a bit intimidating. On the one side of the gym entrance was a massive list of all the trophies this school has won. The Blue Devils basketball squad took up a good stretch of that wall and was entering the tournament as the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group 1. But over the first 25 games, the Dawgs had shown they were never out of the game, no matter who they were going up against.
The Dawgs took to the floor with what was now their regular starting lineup: Mikey DePersia, Aiden Blake, Dan Fleming, Dyl Heine, and Ben Schroeter. The tipoff was a bit messy, and even though Burlington City initially got it, Blake’s deflection gave it to Haddonfield before the Devils could attempt a shot. However, the Dawgs got a shot off, but it didn’t go in, and after reclaiming the ball, the Devils hit a 3. The Devils then picked up their first foul, and off the in-bound play, Dyl went up and in for 2. He hustled back to play D, picked off the ball, and came back to put 2 more on the board to give the Dawgs a 4-3 lead with not quite 2 minutes gone in the quarter.
The Devils came right back with a field goal off an offensive rebound. Mikey got fouled going in for a shot. He made 1-2 to give the game its first—but hardly it’s last—tie, 5-5, at the 5:13 mark. That didn’t last long, as Burlington City hit a 3 to retake the lead, and after a layup didn’t go in for Haddonfield, Burlington City also missed a shot but retained possession when the ball went out of bounds off the Dawgs. The Devils’ second chance resulted in a 2, and they were now up by 5, 10-5. At the other end, DePersia’s shot did not drop, but as the Devils headed back to their basket, Mikey stripped the ball and fed it to Dyl, who got his second basket of the quarter. After a timeout with 3:02 on the clock, Lew Evans came in for Ben S. The Devils got another 2 and picked up another foul. The Dawgs got a little sloppy and turned the ball over on a bad pass, but then got an out-of-bounds call against the Devils. With 2:04 to go in the first, Mikey hit a ball from way out to make it 12-10, Devils. On the Devils’ next trip down the court, Fleming knocked the ball away. This set up a 2-pointer from Mikey that tied the game at 12, but only seconds later, the Devils would go back up again by 3. The Devils blocked a shot under the Dawgs’ basket and pushed their lead up to 5, 17-12, on a field goal with just under a minute left. Aiden Blake swooshed in a 3, but the Devils would get the final basket of the quarter to finish with a 19-15 advantage after 8 minutes.
The Dawgs inbounded the ball and got a quick bucket from Dyl Heine to cut the deficit to 2, 19-17. Burling City got a favorable out-of-bounds call and then got fouled, making 1-2 from the line. The Dawgs turned the ball over again, Dyl had a blocked shot but the ball went out of bounds off the Dawgs, and the Devils scored on a 2. The Dawgs didn’t score again, but Blake pulled down a defensive board, then took the ball all the way down to the other end and drove in for a basket. The Heine bros doubled-down for some good D, Dyl got the rebound, and Mikey nailed a 3 to bring the game even at 22 with 4:04 to go in the half. That caused Burlington City to call a timeout, but this time, they did not score when play resumed. Blake got fouled driving in and made 1-2 to give Haddonfield its first lead, albeit by a point, of the game, 23-22, with 3:22 on the clock.
Neither team scored for more than 2 minutes. Barry Bealor came into the game for Haddonfield with a minute and change left in the half and immediately made a big play, intercepting the ball and handing it off to Mikey, who was fouled. He made 1-2 to give the Dawgs a 2-point edge with 33 seconds to go. The Dawgs’ D overwhelmed the Devils, and their shot did not drop. Bealor grabbed the rebound and Mikey came close to making another 3-pointer from the other side of the court as the buzzer sounded to bring the half to a close.
The Dawgs got off to a good start in the 3rd. Blake scored on a nice assist from Dyl, DePersia got the defensive board under the Devils’ basket, and then knocked down his third trey of the game to put the Dawgs on top 29-22 with 6:13 on the clock. The Devils hung tough under their own basket, procuring a second rebound to get a basket and the “and 1,” making it 29-25, Dawgs. A misfired pass gave the Devils back the ball, but DePersia repossessed it and went up and in to make it a 6-point, 31-25, game.
The Devils got the next two baskets, one a field goal and one a foul shot, to get back to within 3, 31-28 with 4:41 to go in the third. Dan Fleming got fouled pulling down an offensive board and sunk 1-2 to push it back up to a 4-point, 32-2, game. The next basket, by the Devils, was a 3, and with 2:11 remaining, that would actually be the last basket for either side. With 8 minutes left in regulation, the Dawgs were holding onto a 1-point, 32-31, advantage.
The Dawgs had the possession arrow to start the 4th and inbounded but did not score. At the other end, Lew Evans was called for a foul ahead of the shot so the basket did not count for Burlington City. Then the refs huddled and reversed the call, so the foul didn’t go against Lew. Instead, Haddonfield got the ball back, almost lost it, but Evans came through with a huge play to save the ball and put 2 points on the board to make it 34-31, Haddonfield. Evans’ bucket also finally ended the Dawgs’ 6-minute (and then some) scoring drought that extended back to just after Fleming’s foul shot at the 3:38 point in the 3rd. More than a minute ticked off the clock before a 3 by the Devils squared it at 34 with just under 6 minutes left.
Again, neither team could score, but after the Devils got an offensive rebound and got another shot off, Evans, who was the definition of “aggressive” at every turn, struggled for the next rebound and came away with the ball. With the clock showing 4:13 remaining in the game, the Dawgs called a timeout. After the in-bounds, Aiden Blake got a slow roll to give the edge back to Haddonfield. That 2-point advantage was gone about 40 seconds later when the Devils hit a bit 3 to go up 37-36 with 3:15 to go. Haddonfield did not answer with a basket at the other end and the Devils got 3 more points on a field goal and a foul shot. With 2:53 left in regulation, the Devils had gone from being down 3 to being up 4, 40-36.
The Devils then got one of their only steals of the game, but luckily for the Dawgs, an air ball was launched, the Dawgs came up with the rebound, and Blake came up with another big basket to bring the Dawgs to within 2, 40-38, at the 2:27 mark. Burlington City called a TO and as play resumed, Lew Evans checked back into the game. And it would be a crucial move by Coach Wiedeman a few plays later. Right then, however, Blake was fouled, stepped up to the line and hit both shots, and with 1:58 to go, the Dawgs were only trailing by 2, 42-40.
The Dawgs may have been a little sloppy on the offensive end on and off all game, but their pressure defense gave Burlington City a devil of a time all four quarters and especially unnerved them in the last minutes of the game. With a chance to build on their lead, the Devils instead turned the ball over thanks to that pressure, and at the other end, Mr. Big, aka Lew Evans, went up and in to bring the match to a dead heat, 42-42, with 1:19 on the clock. After letting the clock wind down to 1 minute, Burlington City called a timeout. After the in-bounds, Dawg fans were yelling because it looked like the Devils got away with a backcourt violation. They missed a shot but got the rebound, then had a 1+1 opportunity after Mikey was called for a foul. The first shot missed, and Blake secured the rebound.
Coach Wiedeman called a timeout with 15:7 on the clock to draw up a play that could give the Dawgs the win. It involved getting DePersia open, and that part worked. The shot did not drop, however, so instead, the Dawgs and the Devils were headed to OT! And those 4 extra minutes would be worth the price of admission …
Overtime means the game resumes with a jump-ball. As was the case at the start of the game, Burlington City got the tip and again did not turn that into any points. DePersia got the defensive board, and after two shots didn’t drop. Evans got fouled. He made 1-2 to break the tie, giving the Dawgs the slimmest of leads, 43-42, with 3:18 to go in OT. It took almost a minute before another ball would find the net: Unfortunately, it was a 3 at the hands of Burlington City, and with 2:16 left in OT, the Devils were now out in front by 2, 45-43.
The Dawgs’ shot didn’t go in, but the ball went off the Devils. The Dawgs got another shot but to no avail, and to make matters worse, had a chance for the offensive board, but it slipped away, just like it appeared the game was doing …
Mikey was bleeding from a scuffle in the previous possession and Haddonfield had to use a timeout to get him attended to. Just as Dawg fans were starting to think the Devils’ trainer was purposely taking his dear sweet time getting a Band-Aid on Mikey’s cut, he finished—just as the buzzer sounded it was time for play to resume. With 1:45 on the clock, the Devils were on the line with a chance at another 1+1. This time, both shots cleanly fell. Now the Dawgs were down by 4, 47-43. That didn’t change on the Dawgs’ next possession, as another ball did not go in and then went out of bounds off Haddonfield. Aiden Blake picked the perfect time to get one of his quick-hands pick-offs on the Devils’ in-bounds with 52.1 seconds remaining in the game. He was fouled, but since it was non-shooting, Haddonfield got the ball, not foul shots, which turned out to be a really good thing. That’s because Dan Fleming, who had struggled most of the game offensively and defensively, hit a 3—which was only his second field goal in 37 minutes—to keep the Dawgs alive with 42.1 seconds on the clock. The Dawgs fans erupted.
The Devils went into slow-down mode, running time off the clock. But with 12.5 seconds, that strategy appeared to backfire as it looked like Burlington City lost the ball out of bounds. However, to the stunned consternation of everyone in the gym who was not rooting for the Blue Devils, the refs called a foul on Lew Evans. There was a lot of booing/yelling, and I thought for a moment one vocal fan might have to be restrained from charging the court. And since I was the closest to said fan, I was very relieved that said fan thought better of it. The so-called foul (which the unbiased announcers who were there videotaping the game for the Varsity Network told me afterwards was definitely out of bounds off Burlington City) sent the Devils to the free throw line for yet another 1+1.
With only the game on the line, the Devils’ player made the first—and missed the second. Dyl Heine grabbed the board, and the Dawgs raced down the court with Mikey bringing up the ball. DePersia tried to get open but was being double—maybe triple—teamed. With 2 seconds left, DePersia faked driving in down the lane, passing the ball back to Fleming. He initially dropped it but recovered to let the ball go from behind the 3-point arc. As it swooshed in at the buzzer to give the Dawgs a 47-46 OT victory, it would not be an exaggeration to say mayhem ensued. The Haddonfield faithful were screaming and jumping up and down, causing the stands to shake a little. On the court, the Dawgs players engulfed Fleming and literally chased him down to the other basket. The Burlington City fans, who had been chanting seconds ago, were in shock, as were the Devils players themselves.
I had been texting Mark Hershberger and the last word he’d gotten was that we were down in OT by 4 with 1 minute left and the Devils in possession of the ball. He was even more stunned by the outcome than everyone who had witnessed all 36 minutes of the game.
Coach Paul Wiedeman, who was so drained, he ended up on his knees after that ball by Fleming went in, would say later that Haddonfield could not have gotten two better games, this one and the previous contest against Glassboro, heading into the South Jersey Group 2 playoffs.
South Jersey Group 2 Playoffs
It always seems that the seedings for the playoffs raise some eyebrows. This year’s brackets were no exception. Rather inexplicably, Cinnaminson was given the No. 1 seed in South Jersey Group 2, even though there were other teams, including Haddonfield, which picked up the No. 2 seed, and Camden, who got the No. 3, who had better records that the Pirates. While getting the top seed is always nice in theory, the only thing that really matters is which team is left standing after the final round. (Cinnaminson, BTW, went down to 9th-seeded Barnegat in the second round.) This year, because of how the seedings fell, if they both made it that far, Haddonfield and Camden would cross paths in the semi-final round on March 3. But first up, Haddonfield had to face the 15th seed, Cape May Tech.
Round 1: Cape May Tech @ Haddonfield, 2/27/18
Dawgs Get Hawkish
After the two games against Glassboro and Burlington City the week before, the Dawgs were no doubt more than psyched to head into the playoffs. While excited, I think the Dawgs’ fans were also hoping that at least the first game would not be quite as intense as the prior two.
The fans got their wish. The Dawgs jumped out to a 12-0 run against the Hawks. Dan Fleming got the first 2-point bucket, Ben Schroeter hit a 3, and Aiden Blake drove the ball in the paint for a bucket, putting the Dawgs up 7-0 with a little more than 2 minutes gone. Next, Ben S. knocked down another 3, and Dyl Heine made a nice 2-point jumper before the Hawks finally got a 2-point field goal to make it 12-2 at the 3:04 mark in the first. The Hawks would get another basket before Dyl got his second 2 after picking off the ball. A 3 by the Hawks would get them to within 16-7 with 23 seconds left and that’s how the first period ended.
In the second period, the Dawgs got 7 2-point field goals, including 3 by Fleming, and held Cape May Tech to 7 points again: 2 2’s and a 3. The teams left the court for halftime with the Dawgs up by 16, 30-14.
The Dawgs offense heated up a bit more in the 3rd, as they had 3’s from Mike DePersia, Ben S., and Blake, along with 5 2-point baskets. The Hawks broke the 7-point barrier and finished with 10 but now were trailing by 25—more points than they had put on the board—49-24. The Hawks would actually outscore the Dawgs by 7, 20-13, in the last 8 minutes of the game, but to no avail. When the buzzer sounded, the Hawks were heading home for the season, having lost to the Dawgs by 18, 62-44. Dyl Heine led the way for Haddonfield with 15, Mike DePersia had 14, and Dan Fleming, 10.
Although Mike only missed three games total, while Lew and Sam both missed a few weeks, as the playoffs loomed closer, word came to me via one of my very reliable sources that the once impossible no longer would be: Will Bond was getting his cast off earlier than expected and might actually be able to see some post-season action. Any injury is tough on a player, but when it’s your senior year and you go down in game 10, barely making it through a third of the schedule, the phrase “season-ending” also means “career-ending.” When he went down, I think all of the Dawg regular fans were about as devastated over his broken wrist as he and his family were. And it wasn’t just because his absence was expected to hurt Haddonfield as a team: Will is truly well-liked by the Haddonfield followers, as he has grown every year as a player and team leader. So when I looked out one night during warm-ups and saw Will on the floor shooting, I got very excited. Although he did not get into the South Jersey Group 2 first-round game versus Cape May Tech, Will came in off the bench 2 days later in a game that was definitely going to be a grudge match.
Round 2: Haddon Heights @ Haddonfield, 3/1/18
Dawgs Tarnish Garnets
in the team’s third game versus Haddon Heights, the question on everyone’s mind was how Haddonfield could contain Jared Latane. The concern was that if Latane had another explosive, 30-point game, the rubber match might have a similar ending to the two teams’ second Colonial Conference meeting exactly 4 weeks earlier, which the Garnets won 66-63.
The game didn’t start well for Heights. The Garnets got the tip-off only to turn the ball over 30 seconds later before even getting a shot off. The Dawgs got off a shot but it didn’t drop, and then the Garnets got their second turnover in as many possessions only to be called for a foul under the Dawgs’ basket. Dan Fleming stepped up to the line and hit both foul shots, giving the Dawgs an early 2-0 lead. The game had its first tie, 2-2, at the 6:11 mark when Heights got on the board with a 2. Fleming hit a 3, then Latane answered with a 3 to tie it at 5 with 5:27 to go in the quarter. In the stands, the Dawgs fans moaned …
Heights picked up its second foul, and this time, Fleming didn’t have to get to the free throw line to score 2, all he needed was a nice handoff from Dyl Heine to make it 7-5, Haddonfield. The Garnets’ basket after a scuffle by both teams for a rebound made it 7-7 before Ben Schroeter lined up a 3 to give the Dawgs back the lead, 10-7, with 2:53 showing on the clock. Heights again matched the 3 with one of their own (not by Latane this time, at least) but Fleming, who had quite the 8 minutes, sent in his 2nd trey of the quarter for his 10th point, and once more the Dawgs were up by 3, 13-10, with less than 2 minutes remaining in the quarter. Heights did not score this go-round, and a layup by Mike DePersia put the Dawgs up 15-10 with 41 seconds to go. This time the Garnets made a basket, and it was a 3. The first quarter came to an end with the Dawgs up by 2, 15-13.
The Dawgs inbounded the ball to start the 2nd, and Mikey went in to score and drew a foul. His shots gave the Dawgs’ a 4-point, 17-13, lead, and then down the other end, DePersia stole the ball and came all the way up the court to put the ball in the basket, making it 19-13, Dawgs, with a little more than a minute gone in the quarter. After Dyl Heine’s blocked shot, Blake was called for a foul. Heights sank both free throws, but Blake got those points back on a drive in the paint, keeping it a 6-point game, 21-15. The Garnets halved that with a 3 with 5:37 to go in the half.
Neither team scored for a few possessions, and after a timeout called by Haddonfield with 3:14 on the clock, Mikey hit an outside jumper to push the Dawgs’ lead back to 5, 23-18. However, that lead disappeared as Heights went on a 9-0 run. The 3 made it 23-21, the field goal tied it at 23, and the “and 1” put the Garnets ahead for the first time, 24-23, with 2 and change remaining in the 2nd. Under the Dawg net, Blake drew an offensive foul with 1:40 on the clock and came out. His replacement drew a hearty round of applause (and I stood up, which is tough to do with a scorebook, notepad, and pen in hand). Seventeen games after he broke his wrist and he was told he would not play basketball for Haddonfield again, Will Bond was back on the court.
The Garnets apparently were nonplussed by Bond’s return and welcomed him back with a 3, adding to their lead and making it 27-24, Heights. The Dawgs didn’t score, Mikey stole the ball, Haddonfield made a bad shot, but a foul by the Garnets gave the Dawgs back the ball with 40.6 seconds to go. Mikey missed his shot, but Fleming got the rebound, scored, and was fouled. His free throw got the Dawgs back to within 1, 27-26, and after Heights’ last shot attempt did not drop, that’s how the half ended.
In the early going of the third quarter, Heights got the first two baskets, a 2 and a 3, to go up by 6, 32-26. Dyl Heine got the Dawgs on the board, and after securing the defensive rebound, Blake went full court for 2, cutting the Garnets’ lead down to 2, 32-30, with 5:40 on the clock.
A steal by Ben S. with some help from Dyl to keep it turned into a 3 by Mikey to give the Dawgs back the lead, 33-32. Neither team scored their next few possessions. With 4:11 on the clock, Bond came in for Ben S. After Heights lost the ball out of bounds, Bond got fouled. He stepped to the line with 3:52 on the clock. It would have been understandable if Bond was a bit rusty after being out all those weeks and just having gotten his cast off a handful of days before. But instead, he hit the first, then the second, shot as if he hadn’t missed a beat, and gave the Dawgs a 35-32 edge.
Neither team scored on their next possessions, but the Dawgs got the ball back on nice “D” by Bond that led to an out-of-bounds call on Heights at the 3:00 mark. Back on the Haddonfield side, Fleming nailed his third 3, which gave the Dawgs a 6-point, 38-32, advantage. Blake got a steal and gave the Dawgs a chance to build on that lead. DePersia got two shots off but neither dropped, and then at the other end, he was called for his first foul. With 2:32 left in the quarter, Heights called a full timeout. After play resumed, Dyl Heine knocked the ball out of bounds, but Heights retained possession and ended their scoring drought with a 3. With 2:03 on the clock and his team up by 3, it was Coach Wiedeman’s turn to call a full timeout.
Back on the court, the Dawgs fed the ball to Bond, who went up and in for his first field goal in 6-plus weeks, although this time his missed the ensuing foul shot. This put the Dawgs up 40-35. Neither team scored in the last 1:23 of the quarter, so heading into the last 8 minutes, Haddonfield had a 5-point lead over Heights. Would that lead hold up?
Heights inbounded to start the 4th, did not score, and Blake pulled down the defensive board. After Heights caused an out-of-bounds, the Dawgs lost possession on the in-bounds pass, but Blake got it back on a steal. Heights was called for a non-shooting foul, setting up Fleming’s 4th 3. This put the Dawgs up by 8, 43-35 and gave them their largest lead of the game with 6:24 to go.
More than a minute would tick off the clock before Heights got a 2, getting back to within 6, 43-37. With 4:55 left in the game, Haddonfield called a full TO. Wiedeman did not get the results he’d hoped for when play resumed, as the Dawgs lost the ball out of bounds. Luckily, DePersia snatched it back and scored, making it 45-37, Haddonfield. At the other end, Dyl Heine picked up a foul, sending Heights to the line for 2; both shots were good, and with 4:02 left, the Dawgs were holding onto a 6-point, 45-39, lead.
Almost 2 minutes would tick off the clock before Heights got a 3-point roll-in that cut the Dawgs’ lead to 3, 45-42, with 2:06 on the clock. At the Dawgs’ basket, Blake got a 2 and was fouled. Heights called a TO ahead of his free throw, and that strategy worked, as the shot did not drop. Still, Blake had pushed the Dawgs’ edge back to 5, 47-42, with 1:56 to go. Another 60-plus seconds would go by until Heights fouled DePersia. It was the Garnets’ 8th foul, so that sent Mikey to the line for a 1+1; his first attempt did not go in, and with 52.2 on the clock, it was still 47-42, Dawgs.
The next 3 points of the game went on the board for Haddonfield and came from the foul line: 1 came from DePersia with 31 seconds to go, and 2 came from Dyl Heine, which made it 50-42, with 23.7 on the clock. Before the Dawgs fans could start celebrating two big plays happened: First, the Garnets knocked down a 3 to make it a 50-45 game with 16.7 seconds to go. Then, the Dawgs called a timeout, which meant the ball had to be inbounded. When the Dawgs couldn’t do this in the allotted 5 seconds, Heights got the ball back. Their shot didn’t go in, Dyl Heine got the rebound, and once again, Mikey DePersia found himself on the foul line shooting 2. This time, with 11.3 left, he made both. And thought it hadn’t been a walk in the park, the Dawgs had gotten their revenge on the Garnets, coming out on top by 7, 52-45, and advancing to the semi-finals of the playoffs facing yet another do-or-die game versus Camden.
Dan Fleming led all scorers with 19; Mike DePersia finished with 16. As for Jared Latane, the Dawgs defense found a way to guard him, and the senior was held to 9 points—three 3’s—which was a far cry from the 30 he had put up a month earlier.
Semi-Finals: Camden @ Haddonfield, 3/3/18
‘Mike DePersia: Haddonfield Wins!’
Starting with the 2008-2009 season, which was when the Panthers of Camden moved into Group 2, every time the Dawgs met them in the South Jersey playoffs, the Dawgs had come out on the short end of the score. Last year, in the final game at the historic Clarence Turner Gymnasium, the Dawgs lost a heartbreaker in OT, 42-40. And this year, Camden, with a record of 21-5, was coming into the game having won the last five—yes, that’s right, five—South Jersey Group 2 titles. Despite it all, those I talked to felt if the Dawgs were ever going to get the Panthers off their backs, this was going to be the year …
Although this was a “home” game for Haddonfield, seeded ahead of Camden, the Dawgs had to move from Cherry Hill East to Cherry Hill West to accommodate East’s production of The Music Man to avoid any potential “trouble” with too many people on the premises and not enough parking. That essentially made the court at West neutral territory, since the Dawgs hadn’t played one game there all season. Tickets were sold ahead of time, but I had been helping the booster club with playoff concession sales since I live so close to East and it was easy for me to get to games early. That meant I was able to secure my seat before the gymnasium was opened up for the fans. And it was a good thing, because not surprisingly, the stands were packed. It seemed like it took forever for the 20-minute countdown to end and for the starting lineups to be announced.
The Dawgs sent out what had become their regular lineup onto the court: Mike DePersia, Aiden Blake, Dyl Heine, Dan Fleming, and Ben Schroeter. For the first two quarters, the Panthers were in control. They were up 11-7 after the initial 8 minutes and had pulled away to take a 30-16 lead into the half. That team that had upset Glassboro and Burlington City the week before and had stuck it to their Colonial rivals Haddon Heights 2 days ago was MIA. Instead of having the confidence of a team that was 25-3, the Dawgs were playing like they were 3-25. As the teams walked off the court, while none of their diehards wanted to panic, especially knowing no one was better at changing the course of a game midway through than Dawgs’ coach Paul Wiedeman, the fan faithfuls were at a loss.
The Dawgs came out in the third looking more like the team that had pulled so many upsets in their first 28 games. Although Camden inbounded, Dyl Heine picked off the ball and the Panthers were then called for a foul. With about 50 seconds gone, Dan Fleming hit a 3, and a few plays later, after Aiden Blake had pulled down rebounds at both ends of the court, Mikey got his 2nd trey of the game. With 6:17 on the clock, the Dawgs had ended the Panthers’ double-digit lead and were now within 8, 30-22. Camden’s first points of the 3rd would not come until the 4:30 mark, would be courtesy the free throw line, and would put the Panthers back on top by 10, 32-22.
After a floater by DePersia went in and out, Camden got its first field goal of the quarter and the Dawgs found themselves down by 12 again, 34-22, with 2:57 left. Free throws by Fleming made it 34-24. After a Dawg foul on a loose ball, Ben S. got a rebound and Mikey got fouled. He made 1-2, and then got 2 more on a field goal that came after he stripped Camden of the ball at the other end. With 2:04 left, the Dawgs were within 7, 34-27, and there was suddenly a subtle but noticeable change in momentum on the court. In the stands, Dawg fans were sensing that shift and feeling as if their team was on the verge of their biggest comebacks of the season. That feeling became stronger when Camden missed another shot, Ben S. grabbed the rebound, Blake scored, and the Panthers’ lead dropped down to 5, 34-29.
Camden’s last point of the quarter—the Dawgs amazingly held them to 5 points total—came from the foul line at the 1:23 mark. While that bumped their lead up to 35-29, after a Camden foul with 40.1 on the clock, Dyl would score on a pretty backdoor pass, and with 32 seconds left in the third, the Dawgs were within 4, 35-31, and that’s what the scoreboard read as the buzzer sounded to end the period.
Haddonfield inbounded to start the final quarter of regulation. Their shot attempt fell short, but at the other end, so did the Panthers’. Mikey got the rebound, and under the Dawgs’ hoop, Dyl passed the ball off to Aiden, who made it a 2-point game with just under a minute gone in the 4th. Camden did not score again, and this time down the court, it was Aiden handing the ball off to Dyl, who went up and in. As the scoreboard reflected the fact that the contest was now tied 35-35, the younger Heine, who is usually cool, calm, and collected during a game, let out a whoop, as if the Haddonfield fans needed to get any more revved up.
With 6:25 left in the quarter, Camden’s coach John Valore called a full timeout. His directions seemed to settle the Panthers down, as they came back on the court and hit a 3 to go back on top, 38-35. Blake pulled down an offensive board off a missed Dawg shot and put the ball up and in, making it 38-37 with 5:20 left in the game. Neither team scored their next possession. With 4:12 to go, Camden got fouled and made both free throws, again going back up by 3, 40-37. Dan Fleming made another big basket, but Camden answered, and with 3:00 on the clock, the Panthers were guarding a 3-point, 42-39, lead. But not for long. Mikey launched a 3 and with 2:43 to go, the Dawgs had brought the game even again at 42.
Valore called another full timeout with 2:18 left, and when play resumed, the Dawgs forced a turnover. At the Dawgs end, Camden was called for foul No. 6. With 1:31 to go, Wiedeman signaled for a full TO. Picking up play, the Dawgs nearly turned over the ball, but Dyl made a huge save, getting the ball back in the hands of Mikey. No one is better at drawing a foul than DePersia when he is dribbling, and he was successful in getting Camden to commit its 7thof the half. This set up a 1+1 opportunity, and with 56.8 left in one team’s season, DePersia sank the first shot, then the second, putting the Dawgs on top 44-42.
But the Dawgs would return the favor and send the Panthers to the line with a 1+1 chance. Both of Camden’s shots dropped, and once again, the game was deadlocked, this time at 44 all. Now only 46.7 seconds remained. Haddonfield had the ball and was presumably holding it for the last shot. But DePersia, usually such a tremendous ball handler, lost the ball with 31.1 to go. Camden called a timeout to set up its last play. The clock was stopped at 10.0 with Camden still in possession of the ball. Its shot went up but not in: The two teams were headed for their second consecutive playoff OT f. If there was any air left in the gym, it was in danger of being sucked up by the gasping fans, who were bracing for an incredible coup or a devastating defeat in the next 4 minutes …
The tip-off in OT went to Camden, who wasted no time putting 2 on the board. But Fleming had an answer—the 3-point kind— to put the Dawgs up by 1, 47-46, with 3:13 to go in OT. Both teams went into the 4-minute overtime period with 7 fouls, so when Camden was fouled on the floor, it set up another 1+1; the Panthers made both shots to retake a 1-point, 48-47, edge with 3:04 on the clock. Fleming drove into the paint, almost scored, but was fouled. He made both shots, and with OT down to 2:36, the lead had shifted yet again, putting the Dawgs on top 49-48.
Camden got 2 from the field to regain the 1-point lead, 50-49; the clock read 2:09. The Dawgs kept moving the ball at their end, looking for the best open shot. With the clock down to 1:16, Fleming let the ball go behind the arc. The shot did not go in, but the ref called a foul, meaning Fleming would have 3 chances from the free throw line. The first shot was good to tie it at 50; the second put the Dawgs up by 1. When the third swooshed in, the Dawgs’ fans roared and Haddonfield had a 2-point lead.
Camden stifled those cheers with a big-time 3 as the clock hit 55.8 to go back in front by 1, 53-52. The Dawgs had the ball and with 11 seconds left, Wiedeman called one more timeout. As the ball was inbounded and the Dawgs headed toward their basket, there seemed to be a temporary freeze. Who was going to take what was probably going to be the last shot of the game? On the top left of the key, Aiden Blake stepped up. He drove into the lane for a layup. From the other side of the lane on the 3-point line, Mike DePersia sensed the ball was not going to drop. He leapt into the lane and caught the ball as it went over the basket. In one fell swoosh, he put the ball back up to the basket. The ball perched on the rim for what seemed like an hour before it dropped into the net. The Dawgs were up 54-53. Camden made a desperation heave but to no avail. The buzzer sounded. OT was over and this time, the Dawgs and Mikey DePersia had gotten a different outcome. Pandemonium broke out. People were yelling, embracing, crying. And above the din, you could hear the Dawgs’ ecstatic announcer Mark Hershberger repeating, “Mike DePersia! Haddonfield wins! Mike DePersia! Haddonfield wins!”
Hershberger had his phone set up to record a panoramic shot of the final seconds of the game and the aftermath. When I watched the video from all angles, I saw Wiedeman dancing a little jig, Janet DePersia’s beaming face, me hugging the Wiedeman contingency, and Jeff Holman, HMHS guidance counselor, tennis coach extraordinaire, and longtime keeper of the scoreboard, looking dazed and drained and mouthing, “Oh my God.” That about summed it up.
Because I had gotten a ride to the game with Janet DePersia, who has been running the booster club for a long time and was in charge of setting up the concessions, I got invited to join the family—father Robert; brothers Nick and Rob, who were finishing up their junior years at Rowan; Mikey, and Natalie—at PJ’s in Cherry Hill for dinner. In between bites of food (and getting my heart rate back to normal), I was shown the endless videos the siblings were getting of Mikey’s shot. I put my reporter’s cap back on for a minute and asked Mikey what the brilliant Coach Wiedeman had said at halftime when the team was facing a 14-point deficit and the end of their season. “Dig deep,” was Mikey’s reply. He also told me the turning point in the game came in the third when Dylan tied it at 35. As we left PJ’s and I congratulated Mikey one more time, he told me, “Three more games. Three more games.” And that was good to hear, because it meant even though he was still riding the high of the incredible upset off his equally incredible winning maneuver, Mikey hadn’t lost sight of the fact that the Dawgs still had some playing left to do.
While Mikey finished with 20 and that historic shot, Dan Fleming had 19, and up until that shot by DePersia, had been responsible for all of the Dawgs’ first 8 points in OT.
South Jersey Finals, Lower Cape May @ Haddonfield, 3/5/18
Dawgs Put Tigers in the Tank
No disrespect meant for Lower Cape May, which came into the South Jersey final against Haddonfield with a 21-6 record and had, on the way, fairly easily disposed of its opponents—Pennsauken Tech, Medford Tech, and Barnegat. But this title game didn’t have much choice of seeming a bit anticlimactic even before the opening tip-off.
Once the action actually started, it was soon apparent that the intensity of this game was going to be a few notches below what happened at Cherry Hill West 2 days prior. The Dawgs pounced on the Tigers from the outset, jumping out to a 12-0 lead before Lower Cape May was able to get 2 on the board at the 1:30 mark in the first quarter. The Dawgs would finish out the quarter up 16-4 with Mike DePersia, Will Bond, Aiden Blake, Dan Fleming, and Dyl Heine all putting points on the board.
The Tigers picked it up a bit in the 2nd, putting 11 on the board; the Dawgs scored another sweet 16 as Bond heated up, with 6 points, including his first trey since his return. Fleming and Dyl Heine also knocked down 3’s, while Lew Evans and Blake each scored a 2-point bucket. At the half, the Dawgs were cruising against Lower Cape May, up by 17, 32-15.
In the 3rd, Evans, DePersia, and Fleming, with 5, 4, and 4 pointes, respectively, helped keep the Dawgs rolling merrily along. Going into the final quarter and up by 20, 49-29, the Dawgs were 8 minutes away from their first South Jersey title since 2007. Blake (8) and Bond (6) combined for all 14 of the Dawgs’ points. The Tigers, in a too-little-too-late effort, outscored the Dawgs by 2, but it had little effect on the outcome. When the horn sounded, the Dawgs celebrated their 63-45 South Jersey Group 2 championship. Blake finished with 16, Bond with 14, and DePersia with 10.
State Group 2 Playoffs
State Semi-Finals: Haddonfield vs. Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, 3/8/18, @ RWJ Barnabas Healthcare Arena
Have I mentioned lately how annoying the weather was during the Dawgs’ season? After capturing the South Jersey title on Monday, the Dawgs were supposed to head up to Perth Amboy on Wednesday to go up against Rumson Fair-Haven in the Group 2 state semi-finals. However, it snowed. Again. Which led to a postponement. Again. Instead of getting to visit our old stomping grounds, Perth Amboy High School (I can still picture the green and yellow logo on midcourt), which, for 4 years, 2004-2007, had been our home away from home during playoff time, the game was being moved closer, to the RWJ Barnabas Healthcare Arena in Toms River, and was taking place a day later. (Thanks to double-checking that I had the spelling of the venue correct, I now know why the arena seemed so familiar even though the name wasn’t: Last time I was there watching a game, it was called the Ritacco Center.)
Anyway, my usual carpool buddies had a very full car, so I was able to hitch a ride with Mark Hershberger (who later came to regret that decision …). We arrived at the gym while the previous game was still in progress and scoped out our seats. Mark sat in the first row, while I headed higher to where some other familiar faces were entrenched. For the second time in the season, the Dawgs were playing a team that had the same nickname. But unlike Glassboro, which spelled it “Dogs,” Rumson-Fair Haven spelled it the way we do: “Dawgs.” I kidded with a Rumson-Fair Haven fan that one thing was sure: The Dawgs were going to win! Once it was game time, however, there was no more fraternizing with the “other” Dawg followers.
Rumson-Fair Haven (henceforth RFH, because a) that’s too long a name to keep typing and b) I obviously can’t call them the Dawgs too) got the tip-off and the first 2 of the game. Dyl Heine scored on one of his infamous backdoor cuts to tie it. RFH then hit back-to-back 3’s while the Dawgs found ways to turn over the ball. A 2 by Ben S. at the 3:52 mark got the Dawgs briefly to within 4, 8-4, but after RFH knocked down another 3 (and Dawg fans began to make sure Jared Latane wasn’t masquerading in a RFH uni), the Dawgs were down by 7, 11-4 with just under 3 minutes left in the quarter. Haddonfield missed another shot attempt, but Dan Fleming blocked the shot at the other end of the court, which set the table for Will Bond’s first bucket of the game, a 3, to make it 11-7. RFH answered with its 4th trey of the quarter, and followed that up with a 2 when the Dawgs weren’t able to make anything happen under their basket. It was 16-7 with 59 seconds on the clock when Bond stepped to the foul line and made both shots. RFH had two scoring opportunities with 14.1 seconds left and didn’t get a basket. Still, when the buzzer sounded, the Dawgs were in the hole by 7, 16-9.
The Dawgs inbounded to start the 2nd quarter. The Dawgs were still having trouble getting the ball to find the net, but Fleming got fouled procuring the offensive board. He made 1-2 from the line. Mikey DePersia made his first steal of the night, but it didn’t result in a basket. “D” (not sure if I meant Dyl or Dan) followed with a pick-off and this time, DePersia scored. This cut the RFH lead to 6, 12-6, with 6:34 left in the half.
The Dawgs were turning up the defensive heat and stole the ball again only to turn it over. However, a RFH player tried to get too fancy with a slam attempt and missed the basket (I always love it when that happens), Mikey got the rebound, and Will got his second 3 to get the Dawgs to within 1, 16-15, with just under 6 minutes on the clock.
RFH got called for an over and back its next trip, but the Dawgs couldn’t cash in to take the lead. Another DePersia pilfer also did not get the Dawgs on top, but RFH lost the ball out of bounds. Both teams traded missed shots, and then Dyl brought down a tough rebound, setting up Will’s third trey. Midway through the 2nd, it was a one-possession game, but now the Dawgs were ahead by 2, 18-16.
A few plays later, after RFH got 2 points from the foul line to tie it back up at 18, Blake got his first basket of the game, giving the Dawgs back a 2-point, 20-18, lead with 3:22 to go. Both teams scuffled for baskets and did not get them. After a Dawg foul, RFH pulled even again, and it was 20 all with 2:17 on the clock.
Blake drove in the lane for another 2, but the Dawg defense had a momentary lapse that resulted in an easy bucket for RFH. With 1:40 remaining in the half, both sets of Dawgs had 22 points on the board. Ben S. changed that with a 3 that put the Haddonfield Dawgs up 25-22. RFH got a point back from the foul line with 1:01 showing on the scoreboard and then Dan Fleming exploded for a slam on a feed from Ben S., making it 27-23. RFH got the last basket of the half, though, so when the teams headed off to their respective locker rooms, the Haddonfield Dawgs were ahead of the RFH Dawgs by only 2.
Dan Fleming got the Dawgs’ first basket of the second half, but RFH scored at the other end, keeping it a 2-point, 29-27, game. After Blake’s field goal made it 31-27, Dawgs, RFH scored the next 4 points on a pair of free throws and a field goal. With 4:00 gone in the quarter, the score was tied at 31. The next 90 seconds weren’t pretty for either team, and after the Dawgs lost the ball on a bad pass, RFH hit a 2 to retake the lead 33-31. The Dawgs didn’t get a basket at their end, but Bond got fouled trying to find the net. His free throws evened it up at 33 with 2:18 left in the quarter. A DePersia pick-off took Mikey to the rim for 2 and made it 35-33. Dyl’s blocked shot knocked the ball out of bounds, but RFH retained possession. Haddonfield picked up a non-shooting foul, RFH got two chances to try to score, did not succeed, and was called for traveling with 1:13 left. The Dawgs did not score, missed pulling down a defensive board under the RFH basket, which gave those Dawgs a second-chance basket to bring the match even at 35. Neither team scored in the last 28 seconds, so heading into the last quarter, Dawg fans on both sides of the aisles and bleachers were in nail-biting mode.
Although Haddonfield inbounded to start the 4th, RFH would score first to go back up by 2, 37-35. Will Bond kept the ball in Haddonfield’s possession after a shot did not drop, and a few seconds later, Mikey DePersia chose a great time to drop in his first (and only) 3 of the game to give the Dawgs a 1-point, 38-37, advantage with 6:14 left in the game. Good pressure defense by the Dawgs forced a RFH backcourt violation. The Dawgs didn’t get a basket, RFH got called for an offensive foul, giving the Dawgs another chance to score, but again, they came up empty.
RFH had hit a scoring drought as well, and a blocked shot by Fleming gave the ball back to Haddonfield with 4:53 on the clock. Wiedeman called a 30-second timeout and the Dawgs resumed play by slowing down the game, looking for an open shot while simultaneously running time off the clock. With nothing happening offensively, Wiedeman called a full TO with 3:50 to go. Back on the court, the Dawgs finally took a shot but didn’t get a basket.
With 2:35 left and the Dawgs still clinging to a 1-point, 38-37, lead, the refs called a jump ball, and RFH had the possession arrow. Lew Evans, who had just come back in the game, got a terrible foul called against him (I noted this in my notepad with a “boo” in the margin). Twenty seconds later, at the 2:01 mark, Mikey picked up his 3rd foul of the game. RFH inbounded and got a 2 to swing the lead back to them, 39-38, with 1:51 left in the game.
Dan Fleming came through with a huge 3 to put the Dawgs back out in front by 2, 41-39, and now the clock was down to 1:22. The Dawgs got called for another horrible foul under the RFH basket, but RFH then got charged with an offensive foul. With 25.5 left in the game, the Dawgs missed what was looking like an easy layup and the ball went out of bounds. The refs ruled that it was off Haddonfield, and with that, RFH called a full timeout.
When the clock started up again, RFH made a shot that did not go in, and the Dawgs fought for the rebound, but lost it out of bounds. With 9.6 seconds left, RFH called a 30-second timeout. Incredibly, before play resumed, a foul was charged to RFH, giving possession back to the Dawgs. With 5.2 seconds left and the Dawgs still holding onto that 2-point, 41-39 lead, RFH fouled the wrong player, Mikey DePersia, who would have a 1+1 opp. His two shots were assumed to be so automatic, Wiedeman sent his four teammates down to guard the RFH basket. Mikey’s first shot went up—and did not go in. Before the fans could grasp enormity of this, something more astonishing happened. Despite being the least-tall player on the line, and the only one representing Haddonfield, DePersia beat all five RFH defenders to the ball, and was quickly fouled again. This time, with 3.7 seconds to go, Mikey stepped back to the free throw line. One shot went up—and in. The next shot did the same. The Dawgs were up by 4, and even though in reality RFH had no chance of getting 4 points in 3.7 seconds, they called a timeout to see if they could pull off some kind of miracle play. They couldn’t. When time expired, the Haddonfield Dawgs had prevailed over the Rumsfield-Fair Haven Dawgs and would be heading up to Rutgers New Brunswick for the state championship game for the first time since 2007.
One reason that last quarter was so tense and seemed to go on forever was because the teams combined for a total of 12 points. The Dawgs got 8 and held RFH to 4. Will Bond got the team high of 13 points. Mr. Clutch, aka Mikey, finished with 9, and Dan Fleming chipped in 8.
State Finals: Haddonfield vs. Newark Central, 3/11/18, at Rutgers Athletic Center (aka the RAC), Rutgers New Brunswick
State Champs: Nothing ‘Flu’-ky About It
Tickets for the championship game were supposed to go on sale on the Rutgers website Saturday morning. But the link Haddonfield AD Lefty Banos provided was, through no fault of his own, not up and running. Janet DePersia and I exchanged multiple frustrated texts before the link finally went live and we could purchase our seats. I was going with members of the Shaw family, also longtime die-heart Dawg fans. (I can’t swear to it, but I think Eva’s email address has something to do with her devotion to the basketball team.) We got up to the RAC in plenty of time to get some food and see the Shawnee Renegades come back to beat its group 4 opponent Newark East Side in a thrilling game by the score of 56-53. We hoped it was a good omen. I took it to be another good omen that I was sitting next to Joan and Dave Wiedeman, and a few rows in front of us, Vic and wife Lynne were seated with Paul’s three kids and wife Sue. Joan reminded me how at the 2006 state championship game, she was a row in front of me and holding Sarah, still a baby, who was so cute, she was distracting me from the game. Twelve years later, Sarah is playing basketball and is going to be taller than me by next season …
As we sat and waited for the Dawgs to go out on the court for warm-ups, I got the news that Aiden was fighting the stomach flu. I sympathized, as my sinuses had had me down and out for a few days, but happily, I was feeling much better by Sunday. At least at that point in the day …
Finally, it was time for the jump-ball. The Blue Devils got the tip, tried twice to score but failed, and Ben Schroeter got the rebound off the second missed shot. A Dyl Heine to Dan Fleming to Mike DePersia play sent Mikey up and in for the game’s first basket. After taking that 2-0 lead with 6:59 on the clock, the Dawgs would never trail in the remaining 31 minutes of the game. They got the next two baskets, 2 on foul shots by DePersia and 2 off a bucket by Dyl Heine, to go up 6-0. Newark Central would get the next 2 baskets to make it 6-4, but DePersia answered with a 2. Each time the Devils got close, the Dawgs would find open shots. When it was 8-6, Ben S. got a nice bunk shot, and after Newark Central lost the ball out of bounds, Will Bond got his first field goal and foul shot, giving the Dawgs a 13-6 edge with 1:35 left in the quarter. With 25 seconds on the clock, the Devils’ basket make it 10-13, but just ahead of the buzzer, DePersia got his third bucket and 8th point, of the quarter to put the Dawgs up 15-10 going into the second quarter.
In the second, the Dawgs put 15 more on the board. DePersia got another bucket, Fleming and Lew Evans got their first baskets of the game, and Dyl Heine got 2 more 2’s. Ben S. hit a 3 in honor of the occasion, and Bond sank a pair of free throws. The Blue Devils had enough shots drop, adding 12 to their point total, to keep the game competitive, but at the half, the Dawgs were up by 8, 30-22 and they and their fans were smelling a state championship.
However, the third quarter saw the Dawgs struggle a bit offensively. Haddonfield only managed to make 4 baskets—another 3 by Ben S., another 2 by Dyl Heine, and pair by Bond. While not exactly on fire, the Blue Devils matched their first quarter input, and as the quarter ended, were now just trailing by 6, 39-33. Were they going to make a run for it in the final quarter?
Not a chance. The Dawgs turned up the intensity and out-ran and out-shot the Devils in the 4th quarter. Bond made 4 foul shots, Fleming and Dyl Heine scored a bucket apiece, but it was Mikey DePersia who put the game out of reach for the Devils. With his speed and ball-handling prowess, he came close to running circles around the Newark Central players, who just had no weapons to stop him. Instead, to their increasing frustration, their attempts to outwit Mikey kept sending him to the free throw line. His 9 foul shots, combined with a trademark trey, gave DePersia 12 points, which equaled the points the Devils scored in last 8 minutes. As the game clock ran down, Coach Wiedeman made sure any seniors who had not seen playing time already made it onto the court to share in the experience of playing in the title game.
By the time it it was all over but the presentation of the trophy, the Dawgs had sent the Devils packing, beating them resoundingly by 17, 63-45. Mikey DePersia, who would have easily been the MVP if there had been one selected (apparently, NJSIAA is rather low on funds—there weren’t even programs available for purchase—and could only spring for team trophies), finished with 22 points, 12 off foul shots. Will Bond, in only his fourth game back from his broken wrist, recorded 13 points, and Dyl Heine’s five field goals gave him 10 points.
While I was feeling pretty darn good at the RAC after seeing my Dawgs celebrating their championship—a championship that could have been but wasn’t derailed by injuries, a lack of a home court, or practicing on the middle school gym floor. But on the drive back to Haddonfield, I started feeling a little punkie. I would end up in the ER the next night—although only for about 4 hours—where I was stunned to learn I had the flu. Type A, in fact, which is the worse strain. My immediate thoughts were, in quick succession, “Oh no! I’m not going to be able to go to the first round of the ToC (tournament of champions).” And then, “Oh boy, I hope I didn’t infect the Shaws, Joan Wiedeman, or Mark Hershberger …”
Tournament of Champions, Round 1: Haddonfield vs. Nottingham, 3/13/18, @ Toms River North
All Good Things …
While I was feeling marginally better, but still confined to my bed, 2 nights after the Dawgs were crowned kings of Group 2 basketball, I had some of my “peeps” keeping me updated on how the Dawgs were fairing. Turns out, Aiden Blake was unable to play, Mike DePersia wasn’t at full strength, and a few other players were also under the weather. (Mark Hershberger, understandably PO’d that I’d passed along my germs to him, although I don’t think he was ever actually diagnosed with the flu, later suggested I had felled half the team, but I think he was just kidding. Weren’t you Mark??)
Even at low power, the Dawgs hung in there and after trailing by 10 in the third, closed the gap to 2 before Nottingham, who had won the Group 3 title, pulled away and outscored Haddonfield 14-4 down the stretch. The final score was 64-52. Dan Fleming led the scoring for the Dawgs with 14; DePersia had 12, and Ben Cerrato came off the bench to knock in 8.
And so it was the Dawgs thrilling, amazing, and injury-defying season came to an end. (And this is the main reason I am not a fan of the Tournament of Champions. From six teams who win their group state titles, all but one ends the season with a loss. At the very least, I don’t think the ToC wins and losses should be a part of a team’s final record.) Still, the loss to Nottingham would only be the team’s fourth out of 33 games. And it certainly did not diminish in any way all the Dawgs accomplished and overcame to get to 29-4.
Thanks to each player who helped bring the state title back to Haddonfield and truly made it the year of the Dawgs.
Another DePersia, Another 1,000 Points
OK, so this time, the 1,000th point scored in the career of a DePersia did not come in a Colonial Conference contest against Sterling, as it did for Nick (home, 12/23/14) and Rob (away 1/29/15). Instead, it was during a nonleague Saturday morning matchup against the Shipley School at Bishop Eustace on Feb. 3. Mike started his junior year with 807 points, and going into the game versus Shipley, he was at 985. His two foul shots that closed out the first half got the Dawgs to within 4 of Shipley, 26-30, and got Mike to within 3 of 1,000. Once the second half began, he wasted no time notching 1,000, sending in a trey—appropriately, it was a 3-pointer that began his scoring career as a freshman—to make it 29-30. Only two other Dawg players have hit their 1,000th point as juniors: the Big Guy, aka Brian Zoubek, in 2005, and Wyatt Polk in 2010. Zoubek and Polk, not surprisingly, are the Dawgs’ all-time scoring leaders as well.
That 3-pointer didn’t just place Mikey in the Dawgs’ 1,000th-point club with his older siblings. The accomplishment of three brothers from the same family each reaching the 1,000-point plateau had only happened three times in South Jersey hoops history before Mikey’s 3 put he and his brothers into this elite group. And it couldn’t have happened to a more talented, nicer trio. Well done, Nick, Rob, and Mikey.
At season’s end, Mikey would go on to be named the Inquirer’s South Jersey Group 2 player of the year; he was also named All-Group 2 first team.
Our Hall of Fame Coach
The weekend after Mike DePersia surpassed 1,000 points, Dawgs’ coach Paul Wiedeman received some well-deserved accolades of his own. On Feb. 11,Wiedeman was one of eight inductees to get recognized in the 36th dinner and ceremony for the Albert J. Carino Boys Basketball Club of South Jersey Hall of Fame. (The Basketball Club of South Jersey, established in 1962, has had a yearly Hall of Fame since 1980.) Despite the fact that he chose not to spread it himself, many people still got the word, so I was only one of many who came out to the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill to show their support and appreciation for all that Wiedeman has brought to the school’s basketball program since the 1999–2000 season. Along with his wife Sue and their kids Sarah, Abby, and Matt; his parents Joan and Dave (inducted for coaching in 1982); and his brothers Mike and Vic and their spouses, those in attendance also included Wiedeman’s past and present coaches; current and former players and their families; current AD Lefty Banos and former AD Phil Smart; and other “fans,” including longtime (and since 2013, former) Haddonfield mayor Tish Colombi.
In his acceptance speech, which came out to be 15 pages (he ended up not reading it all!), the ever-modest Wiedeman passed the credit around to basically anyone he’s ever been coached by or coached with. But he saved his biggest thanks to \dad Dave and brothers Mike and Vic. He noted that at a very young age, he went to games with Dave when his dad was scouting other teams. This gave him a foundation for how the game was played. He also got to watch Mike and Vic in action in the 1970s as his dad was putting Haddonfield on the map as a team to be reckoned with in South Jersey. Then in the mid-’80s, Paul got to experience what it was like to play for Dave, and it was there that the elder Wiedeman most influenced his youngest son: Paul watched and learned how his dad related to his players and imbued humor into those relationships.
What made Wiedeman the youngest (and the first still-active) coach to have this honor bestowed up on him? Here’s as short a summary as I can muster: Going into the 2017-18 season, Wiedeman had amassed a 415-106 record (that’s three tenths of a percentage point below an 80% winning record) en route to taking the team to the state finals five times: his “rookie” year in 2000, then during a quite impressive 4-year run that spanned 2004 through 2007. Three years, often dubbed the “Zoubek” era, even though the 7-2 Brian was only one key to those exceptional teams, 2004-2006, the Dawgs claimed the Group 2 title back to back to back. What was not known at the time of the dinner was that 4 weeks later to the day, a Wiedeman-coached team would claim Haddonfield’s 6th state title (the 4th of his coaching career). But all the championships, including multiple Colonial Conference crowns, or his win-loss record (now standing at 444-110), only tell a small part of the story.
When he was close to his 200th win in 2007 (he got it, in fact, in the South Jersey Group 2 championship against Sterling), I wrote an article about Paul that went back to his high school days when he wore number 33 and was in charge of feeding the ball to his teammates (and not taking shots himself unless absolutely necessary). For it, I interviewed many people, including the Dawgs he coached. One comment that has always stuck with me came from Kyle Turner, who was a senior on Wiedeman’s first state championship team in ’04. Although he was a starter on the basketball team, Turner really excelled as a football player, the sport he continued to play at Franklin and Marshall. From grade school on up, Turner came under the tutelage of many coaches. Yet he told me at the time I interviewed him, “Coach Wiedeman is the best coach that I have ever had the opportunity to play for.” For Turner, what made Wiedeman the best was his ability to coach from the sidelines, to explain what exactly what he wanted from his players, and to “harness” the best from each player for the overall benefit of the whole team. Turner also referenced the 2004 South Jersey Group 2 state final versus Middle Township that went down to the wire. Turner, who was a good 3-point scorer, had been coming up short all night, but Wiedeman kept encouraging him to stay positive and keep trying. At the most crucial point in the game, Turner let loose a shot that hit nothing but net, enabling the Dawgs to pull off a come-from-behind thriller to beat a long-time nemesis 41-40.
Dawgs play-by-play announcer Mark Hershberger and I talked at length this season about what makes Wiedeman such an outstanding coach. Hershberger commented that Wiedeman is not afraid to change tactics in the middle of a match to adjust to how the Dawgs’ opponents are playing. He thinks that’s one reason Haddonfield comes out on top in so many games against teams that are supposedly bigger, faster, and overall better. Whereas some coaches stick to the same plan every game, no matter who they are playing or what is happening on the court, Wiedeman adjusts and will change defenses (switching from zone to man-to-man or a full-court press) or go with different offensive maneuvers to help his team get into a rhythm.
What I think makes Wiedeman the greatest high school coach ever (biased as I may be) is that he cares about his kids much more than he cares about winning. Although he may never truly know how much his encouragement means or recognize how he builds confidence to the point of changing lives, I have seen it firsthand. He is not just a basketball coach, he is a life coach.
As a footnote to another exception season of Haddonfield boys basketball with Paul Wiedeman at the helm, the Inquirer saw fit to name the Dawgs’ coach the South Jersey Group 2 coach of the year. He certainly earned it.