By Lauree Padgett. Photographs by Gwen Isner.
Photographs copyright © Gwen Isner Photography 2019. All rights reserved.
It was going to take a lot to surpass the 2017–18 boys basketball season, in which the Dawgs went 29–4 on their way to capturing their first state title in 13 years. Expectations were more than met because somehow, this “homeless” group of boys, who played all their games on the road for a second straight season, fought off injuries and endless bus rides to have one of the best ever showings in Haddonfield history.
Since so many games, both in their conference and non-league, were hardly contests at all, I’m going to do something a little different with this year’s wrap-up. I’m going to give you some numbers to help to illustrate just how dominating the Dawgs were from mid-December to mid-March. Then I’m going to dissect the four games I consider to be the marquee ones because they tell the story of why this team accomplished so much and even exceeded last season’s impressive run.
By the Numbers
The Dawgs were 16-0 in Colonial Conference play, and almost all these match-ups could be considered blowouts. Last year, their only Colonial defeat was a tough one versus the Garnets at Haddon Heights. This means that in 32 games over a two-year span, Haddonfield racked up 31 wins and suffered only one loss.
Check out these impressive Colonial stats from this year:
- The Dawgs scored 1,218 points against their conference rivals while only giving up 585 points. That means they put more than twice as many points on the board as their opponents.
- The average final score in a Dawgs’ Colonial matchup was 76–37.
- The most points the Dawgs scored in a game was versus Overbrook on Jan. 24, when they tallied 94.
- Their biggest margin of victory was against Audubon on Feb. 7, when they beat the Wave by 57 points, 83–26.
- The only time a conference rival finished within 10 points of Haddonfield was the Feb. 12 game against West Deptford, but the Dawgs rallied to beat the Eagles 65–61. More on that game below!
Here is the date, opponent, and score of each of the 16 Colonial contests. It is worth noting that Mikey DePersia missed the 12/18 Heights game through the 01/10 Woodbury contest, or the score differential in those five games would most likely have been even higher.
- 12/14/18: Dawgs beat Collingswood 70–25
- 12/18/18: Dawgs beat Haddon Heights 64–41
- 12/20/18: Dawgs beat Audubon 65–32
- 01/03/19: Dawgs beat West Deptford 63–40
- 01/08/19: Dawgs beat Sterling 85–43
- 01/10/19: Dawgs beat Woodbury 77–32
- 01/15/19: Dawgs beat Haddon Township 77–25
- 01/17/19: Dawgs beat Gateway 85–29
- 01/22/19: Dawgs beat Paulsboro 76–46
- 01/24/19: Dawgs beat Overbrook 94–56
- 01/29/19: Dawgs beat Lindenwold 92–56
- 01/31/19: Dawgs beat Collingswood 74–27
- 02/05/19: Dawgs beat Haddon Heights 70–35
- 02/07/19: Dawgs beat Audubon 83–26
- 02/12/19: Dawgs beat West Deptford 65–61
- 02/14/19: Dawgs beat Sterling 78–27
The Dawgs played their allotted 10 nonleague games against some of the toughest teams Coach Paul Wiedeman could schedule. Five of those games the Dawgs were also missing Mikey, including their sole loss to Paul VI. Here are a few quick facts about these games:
- The Dawgs even beat these allegedly more challenging teams by an average score of 62–49.
- The Dawgs overpowered Egg Harbor Township in December during the Washington Township Showcase, shell-shocking them by 45 points, 89–44.
- In two consecutive weekend contests, the Dawgs defeated Atlantic City in the Jeff Cooney Classic and then Bishop Eustace in the Holy Cross Academy Showcase by almost identical scores: 74–38 and 73–38.
Here are the dates, opponents, and scores for the 10 nonleague match-ups:
- 12/15/18: Dawgs beat Camden Catholic 47–37 at the Cherokee tournament
- 12/28/18: Dawgs beat Egg Harbor Township 89–44 at the Washington Township Showcase
- 12/29/18: Dawgs beat Willingboro 51–40 at the Washington Township Showcase
- 01/05/19: Dawgs beat Linden 49–37 at the Seagull Classic
- 01/12/19: Dawgs lose to Paul VI 52–59 at the St. Augustine tournament
- 01/26/19: Dawgs beat Atlantic City 74–38 during the Jeff Cooney Classic
- 02/02/19: Dawgs beat Bishop Eustace 73–38 at the Holy Cross Academy Showcase
- 02/09/19: Dawgs beat St. Augustine 62–57 at the Paul VI Winter Classic
- 02/19/19: Dawgs beat Lenape 63–43
- 02/21/19: Dawgs beat Burlington City 64–55
NJSIAA Group 2 Playoffs
Two of these six games are getting in-depth write-ups. But for all of them, I list dates, opponents, scores, and individual player scores.
02/25/19: South Jersey Group 2 Round 1 – Dawgs beat Barnegat 70–33
- Mike DePersia and Dan Fleming lead the offense with 16 points each.
02/27/19: South Jersey Group 2 Round 2 – Dawgs beat Pennsauken Tech 67–40
- Dan knocks in 18; Aiden Blake, 14; and Drew Gavranich, 10.
03/01/19: South Jersey Group 2 Round 3 – Dawgs beat West Deptford 51–30
- Ben Cerrato scores 16, 12 off of 3-pointers, and Dan Fleming adds 11.
03/04/19: South Jersey Group 2 Final – Dawgs beat Camden 69–67 in OT
- Dan scores 18 of his 28 points in the last 6 minutes; Mike scores 11 of his 19 points in the 4th; and Dyl Heine finishes with 10. Oh, and Drew had a pretty big pick-off.
03/06/19: Group 2 State Semifinal: Dawgs beat Manasquan 53–43.
- Aiden scores all of the Dawgs’ 7 first quarter points and ends up with 14, while Drew contributes 12.
03/10/19: Group 2 State Championship: Dawgs beat West Side 64–53
- Four seniors score in double-digits: Drew, 17; Mikey, 16; Dan, 11; and Dyl, 10.
Tournament of Champions
- 03/13/19: Round 1 – Moorestown beats Haddonfield 59–60
Dan Fleming plays big, with 24, and Mikey ends his career the way it started, with a 3-pointer. Dyl scores 10. It is a tough way to end what had been an unbelievable season, which is one of the many reasons I really do not like the T of C format or having post-state championship rounds count as part of a team’s final record. Grrrrr. Enough said.
While Danny Fleming was still mulling his options in late March, here’s where some of our other senior Dawgs are heading in the fall to continue their education and their athletic careers:
- Aiden Blake will “stick” it to the competition as he plays lacrosse at Cornell.
- Mike DePersia will continue to hoop it up at IUPUI (which is a heck of a lot easier to say than Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis).
- Lew Evans will toe the line at Penn on the gridiron.
- Drew Gavranich will also be defending the goalpost at Lehigh University.
- Dyl Heine will “windup” his career on the mound at Rider.
Dawg players and their coach received some much-earned post-season acknowledgments. Here is a list of some of those honors.
- The Philadelphia Inquirer named Paul Wiedeman South Jersey Group 2 Coach of the Year for the second straight year.
- The Inquirer named Mike DePersia South Jersey Group 2 Player of the Year for the second straight year. Mikey was also named All-South Jersey Basketball first team.
- Also picking up multiple Inquirer honors was Dan Fleming, who was named to the South Jersey Group 2 and All-South Jersey Basketball first teams.
- Aiden Blake was named to the Inquirer South Jersey Group 2 second team, and Dyl Heine received honorable mention.
- Haddonfield also finished No. 3 in the final Inquirer Top 10 poll, one behind Moorestown (harrumph!) and one ahead of Camden. It’s worth pointing out that the Dawgs were the only Top 10 team to win more than 30 games. Just sayin’.
The End of the DePersia Era
It’s always tough when the end of a season also means the end of a Dawg’s basketball career. This year, we are saying good-bye to all but one of our regular players. Aiden, Lew, Dan, Gav, Luke Gallagher, and Dyl will be missed not only for all the hustle and determination they displayed game-in and game-out on the court, but for the stellar way they represented their school and their town. To them, on behalf of all the student and adult fans who have loved cheering them on the last few years, even from the bleachers at Cherry Hill East instead of the Haddonfield gym, I offer a heartfelt "thank you."
That being said, I feel it would be remiss of me to overlook the fact that not only has Mike DePersia played his last game as the Dawgs’ tough-as-nails point guard, with his graduation comes the finale of a rather amazing eight-year run of DePersias playing varsity basketball for Haddonfield. In the 50 years that I have been coming to Haddonfield boys' games, the Haddons/Dogs/Dawgs have had their share of siblings wearing the red and black: the Crawfords and Betleys come to mind in the ’70s; the Wiedemans, Gallos, and Blakes in the ’80s and ’90s; the Wilsons, Davises, and Steinbergers in the ’00s; and the Bonds, Fells, Heines, and Schroeters —who were the team’s first set of triplets—in the ’10s. But never had there been eight consecutive years of brothers playing varsity and being in the starting lineup until Robby and Nick DePersia debuted as freshmen guards in the 2011–12 season and were followed four years later by brother Mikey, who served as point guard beginning with his freshman season in 2015–16.
What I remember most about Rob and Nick was how they knew each other on the court inside and out, which I guess goes hand-in-hand with sharing a womb for nine months. Rob was a ferocious competitor, and while he could hit the 3 or drive in the paint and score, often drawing a foul and hitting the hardwood in the process, his main job was controlling what was happening on the court. And he would not accept defeat easily, a trait that was never more evident than in an away game his junior year against Paulsboro when he willed the Dawgs to come from being 16 points down at the half to pulling off a 5-point, 68–63 victory that Dawg fans still talk about today with pride and awe. Nicky could dribble, pass, and score in the lane, but his most beautiful motion was his 3-point launch. He always seemed to hit a trey just when the team needed it. His senior year — on Senior Night, in fact — Gwen Isner captured a fabulous shot of Nick releasing the ball from beyond the arc as the scoreboard shows Haddonfield trailing Paulsboro (yet again) in the 4th. Nick’s 3 tied the game at 49, and the Dawgs would come from behind once more to beat the Raiders, this time by the score of 53–51.
After 4 years, and 117 games, it was hard to see Rob and Nick matriculate, but Dawg fans were comforted by knowing the pair would continue playing together at Rowan — which was close enough for road trips — and that there was another brother waiting on the sidelines.
Most of us first got to know Mikey DePersia by watching him sink 3’s from half-court during the halftime shootout at his brothers’ home games. I’m not sure how many gift cards Mikey won, but there was a slew of them. As a result, I had already nicknamed him Midcourt Mikey before he ever played his first game as a Dawg.
Mikey seemed to have absorbed the best skills from both brothers: Rob’s tenacity and floor general mojo and Nick’s 3-point bombs and calmness in crucial moments. And like both of them, Mikey also became a member of the Dawgs’ 1,000-point club. But what will most define Mikey’s four-year varsity career, even more than back-to-back state titles, are his three games against Camden. The first one, his sophomore year, was for the South Jersey Group 2 title. Despite Mikey’s gravity-defying heave from just outside the Camden 3-point line ahead of the third-quarter buzzer that put the Dawgs up 36–31, the Panthers would deliver the winning shot at the buzzer in OT to win 42–40. But the Dawgs and Mikey would get revenge in the South Jersey semis in 2018, forcing OT after having been down 14 at the half. With seconds left in OT and the Dawgs down by 1, Mikey grabbed an offensive rebound in mid-air and sent it up and in, causing the near-delirious (and he wasn’t the only one) Mark Hershberger to keep repeating, “Mike DePersia! Haddonfield wins!” as — and after — time expired. No one could blame the fans young and old who stormed the court while checking that the scoreboard really did show the Dawgs had won 54–53. And then there was this year’s South Jersey Group 2 final versus Camden. But you can read all about that contest shortly …
In these last eight years, Haddonfield won a lot of games — 199, to be precise. And it wasn’t just because of Rob, Nick, and Mikey. They had great teammates and coaches who helped make all those victories and championships possible However, I suspect that when the Dawg starters take to the floor for the first time for the 2019–20 season and none of them has the last name DePersia, I will not be the only one in the stands feeling a bit bereft.
I have picked out four games to look at in depth from the Dawgs’ 31-win season: a Colonial Conference thriller, a non-league nail-biter, the defeat that was deflected and turned into the comeback of the ages in the South Jersey playoffs, and a crowning achievement in the state playoffs. To paraphrase our favorite play-by-play man, Mark Hershberger, “Are you ready for some basketball highlights?”
Non-League: 02/09/19 – Haddonfield versus St. Augustine, Paul VI Winter Classic
A Dyl-ly of a Game
I have a confession to make before I begin writing this one. I wasn’t actually at the game. I attending another hoops contest: Nick and Rob DePersia’s Senior Night at Rowan. But thanks to the fact that you can watch many games live or at a time that works for you, I can tell you what happened probably more accurately than if I had been watching from the stands instead of in front of my computer. (Live is more fun, but being able to hit the Pause or Rewind button is quite helpful!) Now, without further ado, here we go.
This was a much-anticipated matchup. Going into it, both the Dawgs and the Hermits were riding 10-game win streaks, and both had won 15 games overall. The game proved to be worthy of the hype, even though the first two points that went on the board for Haddonfield came from junior Ben Cerrato swishing in foul shots. The Hermits scored a pair of 2-point baskets to take a quick lead with 6:36 to go, but Cerrato got fed the ball in the corner and nailed a 3, putting the Dawgs back up 6-4 before the Hermits again scored back-to-back buckets; this time, the second was a 3 that gave them a 4-point edge with 5:25 on the clock.
And so the first quarter progressed. Mikey DePersia got fouled, made both shots, Danny Fleming blocked a shot, a jump ball was called in favor of the Dawgs, and Aiden Blake’s field goal tied it at 9 with five minutes left. A few plays later, Mikey got the rebound and went in for a nice reverse layup to put the Dawgs on top by two, 11-9. After a travel was called on the Hermits, Mikey went in the paint again for 2, but, you guessed it, St. Augustine got four unanswered points on two foul shots and a bucket, tying the game once more, 13–13, with 3 and change to go in the first.
Dyl Heine got his first point of the game from the foul line, inching the Dawgs back to a 14–13 advantage. After the Hermits stole the ball, it looked like Danny blocked a slam, but the ref saw otherwise and called foul #2 on him. (I booed from my chair.) The Hermits’ foul shots were good, putting them up by one, 15–14 with 2:10 showing on the clock. Then Dyl got his next points of the game on a trey — not his usual forte — to make it temporarily 17–15, Dawgs. Next time down the court, the Hermits scored a 2 to bring the game even again, 17-all, which was what the score remained to close out the quarter, as neither team could manage to get the ball in the basket in the last 90 seconds.
The second quarter started with Danny on the bench nursing two fouls, which meant Drew Gavranich was in the game. Lew Evans also started the quarter in place of Aiden. The Hermits got the ball in the net first with a 2 at the 7:12 mark. It took more than a minute for the Dawgs to tie it at 19 on a Mikey basket that came off his pick-off. St. Augustine went back up 21-19, and after the Dawgs were called for a travel, Mikey pilfered the ball again, this time knocking down a 3, which made it 22–21, Haddonfield, with just under five to go in the half. Mikey was just getting warmed up, as he stole the ball again and this time hit a 3 from waaaay out there. With the Dawgs up by four, 25–21 and 4:17 on the clock, St. Augustine’s coach Paul Rodeo thought a timeout was in order. It helped, as the Hermits responded with a 2 to get back to within 2, 25–23, with a little less than four minutes until intermission.
Haddonfield turned the ball over but got it back on a jump-ball call. That’s when Dyl surprised everyone by hitting his second 3 of the game to give Haddonfield their biggest lead, 28–23, with 2:28 on the clock. The teams exchanged fouls, and then not to be outdone by his teammates, Ben made his second 3 of the game to cushion the Dawgs’ lead to eight, 31–23. While the Hermits cut into that lead with a 2, Dyl finished the scoring for the half with his third 3 of the game—and the Dawgs’ 7th — giving Haddonfield a 9-point, 34–25, lead as the teams headed off the court.
Dan Fleming, back in the game, kept that string of 3’s going (it was up to six in a row now) to start the third, and pushed the Dawgs’ lead into double digits, 37–25. Unfortunately, down at the other end, Dan picked up his third foul, but stayed on the court. St. Augustine ended it’s mini-drought with a 2, but Mikey’s 2 kept it a 12-point game, 39–27, with about a minute, 15 gone in the quarter. A 3 by the Hermits cut their deficit down to nine, but Mikey hit 1–2 from the foul line, making it 40–30 with 6:10 to go in the third. Over several possessions that did not go well for the Dawgs but did for the Hermits, St. Augustine pulled to within four, 40–36, with 3:33 on the clock. That’s when Drew, aka “Gav,” picked a great time to launch his first 3 of the contest, which made it 43–36 with 2:35 to go. A few plays later, with the clock down to 1:59, Dyl “only” made a 2, but at the other end St. Augustine got a 3, making it a 6-point, 45–39, game with 51.7 seconds left. Aiden went up and in on a feed from Dyl, and Gav scored a bucket on a feed from Mikey, but a 3 ahead of the buzzer drew the Hermits to within seven, 49–42 heading into the final eight minutes of play. And they were not going to let their 10-game win streak die without turning those last eight minutes into a real battle.
The Hermits inbounded the ball to start the fourth. Almost immediately, Danny was called for his fourth foul and promptly returned to the bench. St. Augustine then got the first bucket of the quarter, making it 49–44 with 7:32 showing on the scoreboard. Neither team did anything offensively for the next few trips up and down the court. At the 5:33 mark, Dyl got 2 in the paint, but the Hermits responded with a 3, closing the gap to four, 51–47, with 5:17 on the clock. After a travel on Haddonfield, Dawgs’ coach Paul Wiedeman called a timeout, but the Dawgs did not score. The Hermits did, and with 4:33 left in the game, they were back to within two, 51–49. St. Augustine picked up a few quick fouls, and in between, Dan checked back into the game. Dyl’s field goal at the 4:18 mark gave the Dawgs a little breathing room, but the Hermits got a basket, then stole the ball and scored, and with 3:21 left in the game, the Hermits had erased Haddonfield’s 12-point surplus to bring the game even at 53-all.
After the Dawgs were having some trouble setting up a play, Wiedeman called a timeout with 3:06 to go in the game. When play resumed, Mikey got busy and drew a foul. He stepped up to the line and sent both shots into the basket, putting the Dawgs back in front by two, 55–53, with 2:31 remaining. Dyl picked off the ball, but Dan was called for an offensive foul, meaning his game was over with 2 and change left. At the other end, the Hermits tied it at 55 with 1:59 on the clock. Gav, who had a penchant for delivering a big shot when it was most needed, hit his second 3 of the game, giving the Dawgs a 3-point, 58–55 edge with a buck 34 left. After missing their shot, the Hermits then fouled the wrong Dawg: Mikey returned to the foul line for a 1+1 opportunity. Of course he converted the first and then the second shot, extending the Dawgs’ lead to 60–55 with 36.5 seconds on the clock. The Hermits got those two points back on a field goal, making it a one-possession, 60–57, game with 27.5 seconds left. At this point, the announcer who was covering the video feed made the wise observation, “There is no better player to have the ball in his hands in the clutch than Mike DePersia.” Of course, Haddonfield then lost the ball on the inbounds play. That was followed by a lose ball and a big pileup on the floor. Tremendous hustle and effort by Dyl and Gav forced a jump-ball call and Haddonfield had the possession arrow and got the ball back with 17.5 seconds left. If anyone thought the Dawgs were just going to wind down the clock and those 17.5 seconds, they were wrong. A beautiful cross-court pass from Mikey to Dyl, who went up and in for 2, sealed the deal. The Dawgs won 62–57, extending their winning streak to 11 and snapping the Hermits’ at 10.
Mikey and Dyl led the offensive charge, with 21 and 18 points, respectively. Gav and Ben added 8 each. Thirty of Haddonfield’s 62 points would come from beyond the arc.
Colonial Conference: 02/12/19 – Haddonfield versus West Deptford at Cherry Hill East
The Eagles Are Stranded
Just two days after their tight contest with the St. Augustine Hermits, the Dawgs had a Colonial Conference game against the West Deptford Eagles. When the teams had met back in early January on the Eagles’ home turf, the Dawgs were in control all four quarters and won by a 23-point margin, 63–40. While Mikey had still been out with his fractured wrist, the rest of the team had been healthy. This go-round, Dan was down and out with a bad (is there ever a “good”?) migraine and Lew Evans was missing his first full game after spraining his ankle (luckily, it was not as bad as initially thought, and he was back in action, although not full-force yet, two games later). Still, no one was expecting this to be a game that helped to prove the Dawgs’ mettle.
Haddonfield got off to a sluggish start, to put it mildly. At the 5:10 mark in the first quarter, the Dawgs were down 4–15, and at the end of the quarter, the Eagles upped it to a 12-point, 23–11, lead. At that point, I don’t think anyone in the “home” bleachers was too worried. I’m sure we were all thinking, “Well, the Dawgs will shake this off.” However, when the action picked up in the second quarter, the Eagles’ offense kept flying high. They started off with a 3, then scored three straight field goals and a foul shot and were up 33–11 with 3:30 left in the half. A bucket by Drew broke the Dawgs’ scoreless drought, but still, the Dawgs were trailing by 20, 13–33, with 2:57 on the clock. The Eagles would soar to a 23-point, 36–13, lead a few possessions later. A basket by Ben, a trey by Gav, and a free throw by Aiden got Haddonfield’s offense back on track a bit, but West Deptford hit a 3 to go back up 39–19 as seconds remained on the clock. Only another 3-pointer ahead of the buzzer by Gav kept the Dawgs from being down by 20, not that a 17-point deficit was that much better, as the first half came to an ugly end.
At halftime, Dawg fans were a little less confident than we’d been after one quarter. Perhaps the St. Augustine game had taken more of a toll on the team than anticipated. And certainly Danny’s presence at both ends of the court was missed. I remember seeking out Robby DePersia to see if his little bro knew the DePersia “Don’t give up” locker room speech that Robby had given his junior year at Paulsboro. “I hope so,” was Robby’s reply. Still, the third quarter was usually when the Dawgs put the most points on the board. So …
Haddonfield started the second half inbounding the ball … and losing it. Meanwhile, the Eagles landed another ball in the net, making it 41–22, West Deptford. Then Ben hit a 3, Mikey went up and in for 2, and Ben cornered another 3. Suddenly, the Dawgs were only down by 11 with not even 3 minutes gone in the third. West Deptford called a timeout, missed a shot, and Aiden pulled down the rebound. When Ben sent his third trey of the quarter into the hoop to make it a 7-point, 41–33, game, Dawg fans roared. You could almost hear everyone saying, “Here we go!”
Except not quite. West Deptford got the next two baskets to go back on top 45–33, but Mikey’s basket made it a 10-point game with 3:49 left in the quarter. The Eagles answered his field goal with a 2-pointer, but a few plays later, Gav’s 2 got it back to 47–37 with about three minutes showing on the scoreboard. The Eagles would get two more field goals in the remaining 2:35, but the Dawgs would get yet another 3 from Ben and a foul shot and a 3 from Aiden to close out the quarter. As the 4th quarter began, the Dawgs were within 7, 44–51.
But yet again, West Deptford got the first bucket to go back up by 9, 53–44. And then something rather jaw-dropping happened. Haddonfield didn’t just go on a little run, it broke out into a mad dash, scoring 16, yes 16, unanswered points. Mikey got it started with a 3 (47–53), and Andrew Gostovich followed with a 2 (49–53). Mikey hit from beyond the arc again, and it was a 1-point, 52–53, game. (I was so excited I forgot to see what the time was on the scoreboard.) Haddonfield committed its seventh foul, sending West Deptford to the foul line with a 1+1 chance. The first shot was not converted, so the score stayed 52–53 with 5:22 to go in the game.
Dyl Heine got a big blocked shot, Mikey’s shot did not drop, but Gav got the offensive board and scored. Haddonfield, once down by 23, was now up by 1, 54–53. And the Dawgs weren’t done yet. Dyl put one in the net, Haddonfield got a pick-off, and then Aiden got 2 off an offensive rebound. With 3:49 left in the game and the Dawgs up 58–53, no wonder West Deptford’s coach called a timeout. Even that didn’t stop the Dawgs, who extended their lead to 7, 60–53, on Andrew’s second bucket of the quarter. Let’s do the math. In about three minutes’ time, the Dawgs went from being down by nine to being up by seven, and 9 + 7 is, yup, 16!
With 2:47 to go, the Eagles finally got two points on the board via free throws that came off a really bad foul called on Mikey. That made it 60–55. Aiden was fouled and made 1–2 from the line, but West Deptford followed with a basket, and with 2:14 left in the game and the Eagles back to within four, 61–47, Paul Wiedeman wanted a timeout to set up a play for the Dawgs. That didn’t quite work out, and instead, West Deptford scored again, meaning that with 1:39 on the clock, it was a two-point, 61–59, game.
Then it was West Deptford’s coach who called for a TO. When play resumed, Mikey nearly got a pick-off, and Gav was fouled. The Eagles had a foul to give, and when the Dawgs couldn’t inbound, Wiedeman had to use up a 30-second timeout. Gav was fouled again and this sent him to the line for a 1+1. He nailed both shots, and with 28.8 seconds on the clock, the Dawgs were up by four, 63–59. A jump ball gave possession back to Haddonfield, and this time, Mikey was fouled. He also had a 1+1 as he stepped to the line. The first shot went in. The second shot rolled around the rim and dropped, which caused the coach’s mom Joan to quip, “Nothing but net.”
After a rebound by Aiden, Mikey was fouled and this time the ball did not go in in his 1+1 attempt, but with only 8.8 seconds remaining and the Dawgs up by 6, Wiedeman told the team not to try to stop West Deptford from scoring. The Eagles did get a basket, but to no avail. When the buzzer sounded, the Dawgs had pulled off an impressive 65–61, come-from-behind victory to remain undefeated in conference play. (Two nights later, on Senior Night, the Dawgs would knock off the Silver Knights of Sterling 78–27 to make it a clean, 16–0, sweep of their conference rivals.)
Back to the game at hand: As you might imagine, there was quite a bit of rejoicing on the court after the Dawgs clipped the Eagles. No one really wanted to leave the gym, but finally, I started walking out. En route, I passed Dyl and his family, including his big bro Sam, and asked, “What did coach say to you at halftime? Can you repeat it?” Dyl laughed and told me, “Coach said our shots would start dropping and theirs would start missing.” And that’s exactly what happened. Is our coach brilliant, or what?
Mikey (who apparently did have the DePersia “Don’t give up” halftime pep talk memorized) finished with 14, as did Ben, whose four 3’s were huge in the third, when Haddonfield doubled its score, going from 22 to 44. Aiden and Gav each had 12, and Andrew came off the bench to add nine. Incidentally, when the Dawgs and Eagles would meet for the third time two-and-a-half weeks later in the third round of the South Jersey Group 2 playoffs, there would not be nearly the drama. The Dawgs, with Danny and Lew both back in the lineup, would win by 21 points, 51–30. That third-round win would set up the game of the year – maybe of the decade …
South Jersey Group 2 Final: 03/04/19 – Haddonfield versus Camden
To force their third straight showdown with Camden, the Dawgs had to get through the first three rounds of the South Jersey Group 2 playoffs. First up was the Bengals of Barnegat. This was literally no contest. The Dawgs were up 13–2 after one, 35–2 at the half, and even with the starters and other regulars sitting most of the fourth quarter, the final score was 70–33, Haddonfield.
Next up were the Tornadoes of Pennsauken Tech. The first quarter went back and forth, with the Dawgs up by two, 13–11 at its end. But then the Dawgs blew by the Tornadoes in the second, putting 20 on the board while holding them scoreless. Going into the last quarter, the Dawgs were ahead by 33. When the buzzer sounded, Haddonfield had advanced to round three by beating Penn Tech 67–40.
I already mentioned that the third game versus West Deptford, this time in playoff mode, proved the charm for Haddonfield. Again, the Dawgs were only up by two, 10–8, after quarter 1. By halftime, they had bolstered that lead to 14, up 24–10. The Eagles got more points on the board in the second half, but it was for naught, as the Dawgs still won by 21, 51–30. That set up the Main Event …
Since I’ve already summarized the previous two meetings between the Dawgs and the Panthers in “The End of the DePersia Era,” I’m just going to cut to the chase. I will note, however, that while at different playoff rounds and different venues — this game did not have to move to Cherry Hill West due to an event conflict at East — the date, March 4, was the same as last year. What no one could wait to find out was if the outcome would be the same or different …
The gym at East was packed on both sides, from the first row of the bleachers to the last row of the second tier. Fans were hungry for action, if not food, as many hit the concession tables on the way in the door. It seemed as if the clock countdown would never hit 0 for the starting lineups to be announced. But finally, game time was nigh. It wasn’t even necessary for Mark Hershberger to say in his booming baritone voice, “Let’s make some noise for your Daaaaawwwgggs,” as the stands were already rocking, with supporters of the Panthers and the Dawgs cheering lustily. When the 36 minutes of unbelievable, surreal basketball was over, it’s a wonder anyone in the gym had anything left to holler with.
No one rooting for the Dawgs wanted a repeat of last year’s first half, when Haddonfield found themselves down double digits, 16–30. Even though the Dawgs’ had fought back to win the game, it did not seem wise to test the basketball gods a second time, really a third time, in a row. Ben Cerrato made the Dawgs’ first basket of the night from the free-throw line after getting fouled during the Dawgs’ first possession. But Camden got a field goal and a trey to quickly go up 5–1. After Ben let loose with a 3 and Dyl got a nice tap-in off an offensive board, Haddonfield was back on top by one, 6–5. The lead seesawed back to Camden, then the Dawgs as Dyl got another 2 in the paint off an inbound pass (one of Haddonfield’s trademark plays). That 8–7 lead would grow into a 10–7 lead after a nice jumper by Mikey with 3:14 to go in the quarter.
The Panthers pounced, however, and in the span of two minutes, had retaken the lead by scoring eight straight points, and with 1:10 to go, the Dawgs found themselves behind by five, 10–15. The clock dropped down to 36.1 seconds before Camden got another field goal to increase their lead to seven, 17–10. As Haddonfield held the ball for the last shot, Mikey drew a foul and stepped to the line with 2.3 seconds remaining. He hit both and the first quarter ended with the Dawgs down five, 12–17.
The Dawgs had a better second quarter, putting 16 on the board and holding the Panthers to 12. Much of that was due to Danny, who scored three straight times, going in the paint for a pair of buckets and then hitting one from behind the arc. That 3 got the Dawgs to within four, 20–24, with 4:44 to go to halftime. After tough D by Dyl, Dan, and Ben, Camden called a timeout. Dyl had one of his famous kicks, and Mikey snuck in under the rim to grab a rebound. The Dawgs took advantage as Ben unleashed a 3 to get the Dawgs to within one, 23–24, with just under four minutes on the clock. After Camden made 1–2 from the foul line, Gav came in for Dan and made what could only be described as a “whoops” 3-pointer. He didn’t really want to shoot the ball, almost didn’t, then when he did, it looked like it was going to miss and badly. Except it went in and put the Dawgs ahead for the first time in a while, 26–25, with 2:52 left in the second.
Haddonfield got called for two shooting fouls in a row, but Camden only converted 1–4 from the line, and with 2:05 on the clock, it was 26–26. Neither team could score for nearly a minute, but Camden hit a 3 with 1:06 to go. Dyl got 2 with 49 seconds remaining, and that’s how the half ended, with Camden up by one, 29–28. Dawg fans were feeling slightly optimistic. After all, down by one was a whole lot better than down by 14. That optimism, however, would be short-lived …
Actually, the third quarter did not start out too badly. Although Camden would score the first two buckets, a steal and a drive into the paint by Mikey kept the Dawgs close, 30–33, with a little less than two minutes gone in the third. Camden would score four more on two foul shots and a field goal to push that lead to seven, 37–30, with 5:02 on the clock. Mikey would go down hard on the floor, Haddonfield retained possession of the ball, but a bad pass gave the ball back to Camden anyway. Dan responded with a blocked shot at one end and a 3 at the other, and with four and change to go, the Dawgs were back to within four, 33–37.
Those last four minutes weren’t pretty, however, Camden would add 10 more to their total, while the Dawgs could only muster 5, on baskets by Dyl and Mikey, who was fouled while driving up and in. His free throw with 1:38 left would make it 38–43, and the Panthers would finish out the quarter scoring two more times. So, heading into the final eight minutes of regulation, the Dawgs were down by nine. But even though it would not seem that way at all, although down, they were not out. Not by a long shot.
Camden got the first five points of the fourth, putting the Panthers up by double digits, 52–38, with just over two minutes gone. The Dawgs needed a basket and got a 3 from Mikey. Still, the Dawgs were in the red by 11 with 5:43 left in the game and possibly their season. Two foul shots by Danny got the Dawgs back to within nine, 43–52, with 4:55 on the clock. But things were not looking up.
Mikey picked up a rare offensive charge, and during the Dawgs’ next possession, Ben, Mikey, and Dan all missed baskets — Dan’s went in and out. With 4:14 to go and the Dawgs still behind by nine, Dyl picked up his third foul. With 3:41 on the board, Camden called a timeout. Thirty seconds after play resumed, Dyl was called for his fourth foul, even though he was knocked down. And then Camden hit a 3. After a huge offensive board by Aiden off a missed attempt by Danny, Mikey answered with a 3, and was fouled. His free throw completed a four-point play, and the Dawgs were barely hanging in there, down by eight, 47–55, with 2:31 left. Camden answered with a huge slam that brought Panther fans to their feet. Their team was up by 10 with 2:30 to go in the game. They could smell victory in this crowded, hot, loud gym. What no one knew was that the Dawgs were not ready for them to taste it.
After Haddonfield did not score, Camden lost the ball out of bounds with 2:20 remaining. Mikey took the ball and drew a foul. That foul sent a Camden senior to the bench, who understandably expected to have another chance to suit up in his Camden purple uni again. Meanwhile, Mikey stepped to the line with 2:12 on the clock with a chance to convert both ends of a 1+1. With no indication that the game, the season, and his high school career were on the line, Mikey made both shots. The Dawgs were down eight, 49–57. As the clock hit 2:00, and the Panthers had nowhere to go with the ball, Camden called a timeout.
In the stands, I put my head in my hands and took deep breath. I was not ready for this spectacular year to be over, yet reality was trying to set in. But if the Dawgs were going to go down, I knew they were going to fight it all the way. As they headed back onto the court, I stood up and yelled. I was in it with them, no matter what, as were so many of the Dawg faithful.
A 3 by Camden at the 1:50 mark, which put them up 60–49, seemed to be the dagger in the Dawgs’ heart. But at the other end, Danny had an answer. It was now 60–52, Camden, with 1:31 to go. The Dawgs were clawing tooth-and-nail to stay alive.
The Dawgs had a foul to give and Mikey drew it. That meant Camden had to inbound the ball. After a pass that could have gone out of bounds, the Panthers got the ball into the paint and the net and went back up by 10, 62–52, with 1:12 to go. Again, Dawgs fans were staring the inevitable in the face. But the Dawgs were staring it down and refusing to blink.
On a quick drive up the court, Mikey passed the ball to Danny in the corner. Could he do it again? Yes! With 1:03 to go, the Dawgs were within seven, 55–62. And Paul Wiedeman called a timeout. Later, we would find out that the players were telling Wiedeman and his staff, “Don’t worry, we got this.” The coaches loved their attitude, but thought that a winding-down clock was going to rob them of a second straight South Jersey title.
As play was about to resume, the Dawgs went into full-court press mode, trying to deny Camden an easy inbounds. While they got the ball in, smothering defense, especially by Lew, kept them from getting anywhere. Instead, Camden lost the ball out of bounds.
Here is the recap of the last 50-plus seconds of regulation as it unfolds in “surreal” time:
The ball is inbounded to Mikey. He gets it to Blake, who passes it to Danny, who shoots from behind the arc. The ball does not go in, but he is fouled.
Danny has the chance to get the Dawgs to within 4 if he makes all three foul shots. The first goes in. The second goes in. The third goes in. Suddenly, miraculously, it is only a four-point, 62–58, game.
As Camden goes to inbound the ball, again the Dawgs apply pressure defense. Again the Panthers have trouble advancing the ball.
A scramble ensues, but the ball goes out of bounds off Haddonfield. Camden has to inbound it.
A Camden player is fouled, giving the Panthers a 1+1 opportunity. The first shot is good, putting Camden back on top by 5, 58–63. The second attempt does not drop.
The Dawgs get the rebound only to have to scramble to get it back. In the process, Mikey is fouled.
Once again, No. 3 steps to the line. Mikey hits the first. He hits the second. The Dawg fans erupt. Sixty-one seconds ago, the Dawgs were down by eight. Now it’s a one-possession, 60–63, game.
Camden has to inbound the ball. As Dan, with his 6-7 frame and outstretched arms, jumps up and down under the basket, Camden tries to slip it in along the sideline, but Gav sneaks in and picks it off.
Gav hands off the ball to Mikey, who passes it to Dan. Dan passes it to Lew, and Lew gets the ball back to Mikey.
Mikey makes a sidelong pass to Danny, who takes a few steps, plants his feet behind the arc, and releases the ball. The ball swishes in. The Dawg bench and the fans go wild. No one is quite sure how this has transpired, but the Dawgs have come back from the brink to tie the game at 63.
Camden rushes up the court going for a fast break, but gets a travel call. Coach Wiedeman calls a timeout. Then Camden calls a timeout. Haddonfield inbounds the ball about half-court. Who will take the Dawgs’ last shot? Mikey and Danny have provided on-court CPR to the Dawgs, who 90 seconds ago looked all but DOA. Mikey gets the ball. He slips, passes it to Ben, who flings up a shot that doesn’t drop.
So of course it seems only fitting that the third playoff game in this Haddonfield-Camden trilogy (thrill-ogy?) is to be decided in overtime.
OT means another jump ball starts the action. Dan gets it to Dyl, who gives it to Mikey to bring it up court. He flicks it to Ben, whose shot is a little off, but Aiden grabs the rebound. Ben gets the ball and this time sends a high pass to Danny, who’s waiting under the basket and drops it in. Haddonfield has the lead. 65–63, for the first time since the 2:52 mark in the second quarter. It does not last long.
Camden answers with a field goal that the Dawgs wanted to be an offensive foul, as Danny took an elbow and landed on the floor. Instead, the basket counts and the game is tied at 65.
This time up the court, the Dawgs set up a backdoor option, Mikey to Aiden, Aiden to Danny, who makes a nice bounce pass to Dyl under the basket.
Dyl goes up and in to put Haddonfield back on top 67–65. Camden’s next shot attempt doesn’t even hit the rim, and Mikey picks it up.
Mikey dribbles the ball back up the court.
The Dawgs can’t take advantage of that Panther air ball, as Dan is called for an offensive foul.
Camden works to set up a play under their basket, but creates a turnover instead by stepping on the line. Mikey is in no rush to get the ball back to the Dawg basket. Dyl gets open, but his shot is blocked as he drives in toward the basket. Camden gets the rebound, and quickly gets the ball up the court.
As the ball is driven into the paint, Danny picks up his second foul in less than a minute. Both of Camden’s free throws are good. The game is tied at 67.
Mikey brings the ball up under heavy pressure. He gets over on the sideline with nowhere to go, forcing a Haddonfield timeout. After getting instructions from their coaches, the Dawgs set up the inbound. Aiden passes it to Mikey. He gets the ball back under the basket.
The ball goes bounds off Camden Again Aiden does the inbound honors, tossing it into Dyl, who passes it back to Aiden.
Aiden then gets the ball to Danny, who makes an off-balance outside jumper that drops. The Dawgs have regained a 2-point, 69–67 lead. Can they hold on for 45 seconds?
At the other end, Danny aggressively knocks a would-be pass out of bounds. Camden misses its first shot, gets two offensive rebounds but can’t get the ball to drop.
Thanks to smothering D by Dyl, Camden loses the ball out of bounds. Haddonfield calls a final timeout to set up what will probably be its last possession of the game. Dyl inbounds the ball under the Camden net and sends a perfect half-court pass to Aiden, who has broken away. He catches the ball … and skids. A traveling violation is called.
Camden has new life with possession of the ball. Haddonfield fans gasp for air. The Dawgs, however, stay staunch, ready to defend the basket. The Panthers bring the ball up.
Camden fires off a 3 that doesn’t fall. They get the rebound, try a jumper, and it just misses.
The ball goes out of bounds off Haddonfield. Camden inbounds but has no time to get a shot off.
The game is over – 69-67.
Somehow, the Dawgs found a way to vanquish what seemed like an insurmountable 10-point lead with 1:12 left in the game to pull off what surpasses every other comeback in Haddonfield history. Yes, the Dawgs came back from greater deficits, even this season, but did they ever score 10 points in 72 seconds? Not that I can recall.
As the team reacts in pure jubilation, and fans storm the court, I am on the verge of crying, I am so proud and so amazed at what Mikey, Danny, Dyl, Aiden, Ben, Lew, and Gav have pulled off. Joan Wiedeman is crying. I hug her, and several other emotional longtime fans as I make my way down onto the court. It takes a minute, but I find Janet DePersia. She is as overcome and ecstatic as I am, and with good reason. Her boy put 11 points up on the board in the fourth, including two huge 3’s, and finished with 19. Dan Fleming had the game of his career. He scored 14 of his 28 points in the fourth, knocking down a trio of 3’s, including the game-tying one with eight seconds left. He also knocked in four of Haddonfield’s six OT points.
When I get a chance, I give my favorite coach a big hug. I tell him about not being able to accept, even with 2 and change left in the game and the Dawgs down by 11, that we were going to lose to Camden. “And apparently, neither could the players,” I add. He shakes his head, still also not quite fully comprehending what he has just witnessed, what his kids have done. His response is short, but it says it all: “Our team makes the impossible possible.”
Then it was time for the trophy and photos with the triumphant players and their still-amazed coaches. The pictures would be great keepsakes for veryone involved with the team and their families. But I am pretty sure no one who attended this game is ever going to forget what they saw happen on the John Valore Court at Cherry Hill East. Or ever quite believe it either.
State Group 2 Final: 03/10/19 – Haddonfield versus West Side at Rutgers–New Brunswick
A Storied Finish
Before anyone had time to recover or truly digest Haddonfield’s latest OT win in which they literally and figuratively clutched victory out of the (Panther) jaws of death, it was time for the state semifinal game at Perth Amboy. The Dawgs were going up against the Big Blue Warriors of Manasquan.
This wasn’t the best Dawgs’ win of the year. At times the players looked a bit sluggish and were having some trouble finishing plays. No wonder. The OT battle to the death against Camden had to have taken a lot out of them. Still, they kept building their lead. After being up two, 7–5, after one, they took a five-point, 22–17, edge into the locker room at the half. After three, the Dawgs were up by 10, 37–27. The Big Blue Warriors matched the Dawgs point-by-point in the last eight minutes, so the Dawgs’ maintained that double-digit lead and advanced to the state championship recording a 53–43 W.
Sunday, March 10, the Dawgs were back at the RAC — Rutgers Athletic Arena, also known by its official name, the Louis Brown Athletic Center — for the second straight year. Their record stood at 30–1. A win would give them back-to-back Group 2 state championships and would tie them for most wins in a season with the 1989 team (whose point guard was none other than the current Dawgs’ head coach) and the 2006 team, lead by Dukie-to-be Brian Zoubek. It would also give said coach the 475th win of his career at Haddonfield.
Standing in the way of a repeat title and these two other significant accomplishments were the Roughriders of (Newark) West Side. The Roughriders came into the RAC boasting a 21–9 record. However, you can’t always judge a team’s talent and ability just by a record. Although they were 7–5 in their conference, that was only one win behind the conference leaders. The Roughriders were also predicted to win the North Group 2 playoffs, which they did.
Now it was time to see how the final chapter of the Dawgs’ Group 2 saga — the West Side story — would end.
The Roughriders captured the jump ball to start the game but could not score and knocked the ball out of bounds with only eight seconds off the clock. The Dawgs missed two shots but got two offensive boards, one by Dyl and one by Aiden, who went up and in to score the first bucket of the championship at the 6:32 mark. At the other end, West Side answered with a 3.
Neither team put points on the board the next time they got the ball. After rebounding a blocked shot by Danny, Mikey was fouled going in the lane for a field goal. His made 1–2 from the line, tying the game at 3 with 5:22 on the clock. Under the West Side basket, Mikey pulled down another board and followed that up with his first field goal, giving the Dawgs back the lead, 5–3. Sixty seconds later, with just under four minutes left in the quarter, West Side pulled even with two foul shots.
After some bad passes at both ends, the Roughriders hit their second 3 of the game, then stole the ball and added another two points to their score. With the Dawgs trailing 5–10 with 2:31 on the clock, Paul Wiedeman called his first timeout. When play resumed, Lew and Drew came into the game, and the Dawgs turned the ball over again. West Side made that turnover especially “rough,” nailing another 3. Now the Dawgs were down by eight, 5–13.
Dan found his sweet spot and responded with the Dawgs’ first 3 of the game to get Haddonfield back to within five, 8–13. After a West Side turnover, Gav was fouled and stepped to the foul line. He made both free throws, and with 1:45 to go in the quarter, the Dawgs had closed the gap to 3. Dyl came back in the game in time to work with Gav to force another West Side turnover. This time, Haddonfield made West Side pay as Dan sent his second 3 in to tie the game at 13 all with 1:01 on the clock.
Dan then gave the Dawgs back the lead with a 2 with 10 seconds to go. But then he picked up a foul, which sent the Roughriders to the line. Neither shot went in, so with almost no time on the clock, Haddonfield was still up by two, 15–13. Still, Dyl went for the rebound and made a heave across the court. While not coming close to the net, it did send the West Side cheerleaders scurrying in a hurry from the baseline.
The second quarter got off to a bad start for West Side. After missing its first shot, the team then picked up a foul under the Haddonfield basket, albeit non-shooting. Haddonfield also missed a shot, but Gav was there to grab the ball and put it in the net. After another missed shot by the Roughriders, Dan pulled down a defensive board, and the Roughriders pulled off another foul. Dyl made a nice pass to Aiden, but the ball didn’t drop. No matter. Gav was there to get another offensive board and another basket. Now it was 19–13, Dawgs, with 6:26 until halftime..
The ball didn’t make it into either basket for the next few minutes during possessions by the Dawgs and the Roughriders. Mikey ended the overall scoring drought by sending his first 3 of the game into the net, and with 4:39 on the clock, the Dawgs had pushed their lead up to nine, 22–13. Not only did West Side fail to score again, the team picked up its seventh foul, putting Drew on the line to shoot a 1–1. His shots gave Haddonfield its first double-digit lead, 24–13, with 4:14 on the clock.
Another timeout did not bring West Side’s scoreless streak to an end. After a rebound by Dyl, he got his first field goal of the game off a nice feed from Dan. Finally, the Roughriders got a basket — of the 3-point variety — to make it a 10-point, 26–16, game with 3:01 left in the half. West Side then scored two more field goals to get to within six, 26–20, with 1:36 to go.
After West Side knocked the ball out of bounds, the Dawgs couldn’t inbound and had to call a timeout to retain possession of the ball. That led to another basket by Dyl, with Ben picking up an assist Aiden got a defensive board and after going cross court, he was fouled attempting to score. He made 1–2 from the line with 43.0 on the clock, making it 29–20. Good D from Dyl helped procure a traveling violation on the Roughriders with 26.4 seconds on the clock. The Dawgs ran the clock down going for the last shot, but it did not drop. Still, the Dawgs walked off the court up by nine and looking like they would not have too much trouble maintaining a good lead for the last two quarters. But, looks can be deceiving …
The third quarter started as well as it could, with Gav hitting a 3 to give the Dawgs a double-digit, 32–20, lead. A basket by West Side made it 32–22, but Dyl and Aiden scored on consecutive trips down the court, increasing the Dawgs’ advantage to 36–22 with 6:19 to go in the third.
The Roughriders got the ball in the net, but couldn’t convert the free throw that followed. A few possessions later, Ben hit a 3 — of course from the corner — which put the Dawgs up by 15, 39–24, with 5:23 left.
West Side called a timeout, which seemed to settle the team down a bit, as they scored two field goals in a row, erasing the Dawgs’ lead down to 39–28 at the 4:22 mark. After two missed Dawg shots, an offensive board finally paid off, as Dyl went up and in. After an air-ball down at the other end, Mikey dished the ball to Dyl, who picked up another two points, making it a 15-point game again, 43–28, with 3:39 left in the quarter.
Then the Roughriders, who had been plodding along, suddenly were off to the races. After sinking a pair from the foul line, West Side picked off an errant Haddonfield pass and scored. The Dawgs were still up by double digits, 43–32, when Paul Wiedeman called for a timeout with just under three minutes on the clock.
The Dawgs lost the ball on the inbounds, West Side answered with a 3, and after another Dawg foul, hit from behind the arc again. Just like that, the Dawgs were only up by five, 43–38, with 1:24 on the clock. Danny was called for a walk (it looked like he was pushed), but at least West Side didn’t score. But neither did the Dawgs. After the Dawgs picked up yet another foul with 9.9 seconds left, the Roughriders got a field goal, and with eight minutes to go until one team would be crowned Group 2 state champs, the Dawgs were now only ahead by three, 43–40.
West Side got the ball to start the last quarter. Shortly thereafter, Dan got charged with his fourth foul, sending West Side to the free throw line. Neither shot went in, so with 7:39 left in the game, the Dawgs were still up by three, but really needed to get some more points on the board. That did not happen. Instead, the Roughriders scored and cut the deficit to one, 43–42, with 7:04 remaining. A really off pass by the Dawgs gave the ball back to the Roughriders, who made the Dawgs pay, hitting a field goal, which put them up by one, 44–43. From the 3:02 mark in the third to the 6:37 mark in the fourth, the Roughriders had rattled off 14 unanswered points.
Somebody had to step up for the Dawgs to stop the Roughriders’ run. And as he had done so many times when the Dawgs’ offense needed a jolt, Mikey answered the call. His 3 got the Dawgs back in front by two, 46–44, with 6:04 to go. West Side finally did not score, Gav got the defensive board, and after West Side picked up a non-shooting foul, Haddonfield inbounded the ball. Mikey hit again, this time for a 2, but the Roughriders shot back with a 3, and with 4:14 on the clock, it was a 48–47 game.
Aiden was fouled going in for a basket. He hit both free throws, but West Side kept it a one-point game, getting a field goal at the other end. Now it was 50–49 with exactly four minutes to go. As he had been doing all season, Gav hit a 3 just at the right time, pushing the Dawgs’ lead up to four, 53–49.
Mikey was called for an offensive foul, Haddonfield’s seventh, which set up a 1+1 opportunity for West Side. The first shot did not go in, keeping it a four-point, 53–49 game at the 3:18 mark. The Roughriders did get the offensive rebound only to get a traveling call. Gav got an offensive board under the Dawgs’ basket and was fouled. He also went to the line with a 1+1. His first shot also did not go in, and with 2:10 remaining, the score was holding steady at 53–49.
West Side returned to the foul line and this time made 1–2, and with 2:03 showing on the big four-sided scoreboard that hung suspended from the rafters mid-court, it was a 53–50, one-possession game. The pressure was on both teams to finish strong.
However, both teams turned the ball over, but after the Dawgs lost possession on a travel violation, Aiden couldn’t have picked a better time to do one of the things he does best: steal the ball. As he headed back down toward the Haddonfield basket, he dished the ball to Mikey, who went up and in, scoring and drawing a foul. His foul shot made it 56–50, Haddonfield, with 1:11 to go. Dawg fans howled their approval, sensing that a second state championship was about to happen.
Two more foul shots by Mikey with 1:03 on the clock brought that title even closer, putting the Dawgs up by eight, 58–50. The two teams exchanged foul shots, each making 1–2, with Dan sinking Haddonfield’s with 51.3 seconds on the clock.
West Side wasn’t going to pull a retreat and got a field goal to cut the Dawgs’ lead to six, 59–53, with about 40 seconds left. The Dawgs got those two points back on a feed by Mikey to Gav. And Gav’s foul shot made it 62–53 with 31.4 seconds to go. Dyl got fouled pulling down a rebound — he would finish the game with nine — and his two foul shots closed the game out with 7.5 seconds left. When the buzzer sounded, the Dawgs had accomplished their season-long goal: not just getting back to the state final but winning it, which they did by a 64–53 margin.
Drew was the Dawgs’ high-scorer of the game, finishing with 17 points. Mikey was right behind him with 16, 10 of which he put on the board in the final eight minutes. Dan played through foul trouble to knock in 11, and Dyl finished with 10. Aiden had seven points, eight rebounds, and two steals, including that huge one in the last 70 seconds of the game.
There were a lot of happy faces, flashing grins and giving the peace sign, which in this case made the statement that the Dawgs had repeated at Group 2 state champs. Everybody took turns passing the trophy around after it was presented to Coach Wiedeman. The way the seating is at the RAC, with real, folding chairs and very narrow rows, it was hard for the fans to interact until we got into the concourse. Then we didn’t have much time to mingle, as the RAC staff had to get the very ecstatic Dawg fans and the very disappointed Roughrider fans out of the way so those waiting to see the next championship game could get into their seats.
Parade of Champions
As any Dawg fan worth their salt knows, after a state title (any sport) comes the parade through town replete with fire trucks and police escorts, sirens wailing, and cars honking. I found out the line would be forming by Scout Field, and my traveling buddies (Debbie Vermaat and three of her Guveiyian grandchildren, Matthew, who played on the Dawg freshman team; Ryan, an up-and-coming Dawg hoopster; and Sara, who may prove to be the toughest b-ball player in her family) were one of the first cars to arrive. We were nice, though, and made room in front of Debbie’s car for the Wiedeman caravan! As the line was starting to stretch backwards down Centre Street, the police cars and fire trucks started to arrive. Finally, we could see the buses chugging down the hill and another round of cheers went up.
The team and coaches got out of the buses and onto the fire trucks and we were off. We wound around past Wedgewood and got on Upland Way. At the corner of Upland and Washington, Paul and Liza Zoubek, who had been in their share of parades with Brian and daughter Sarah (Sarah’s Lady Dawgs team won in 2005 along with Brian’s boys’ team), came out to wave. As we turned onto Warwick, we started passing more and more people who were out on the sidewalks and curbs cheering our conquering champions. The excitement built as this huge entourage turned onto Kings Highway as police let everyone go regardless of whether the light was green, yellow, or red. (I should mention that the people who were in cars trying to drive through Haddonfield at this time, and who were having to let what must have seemed like an endless line of emergency vehicles and cars go by, were probably excited too, but in a less-happy way.)
Up Kings Highway the convoy rolled, heading for the high school. People were coming up side streets and out of restaurants to holler along with us. And many of them started walking toward the high school as well. Debbie was lucky that we were so close to the front, as she was able to pull up and park just before Roberts Avenue. Then we all gathered in front of good old HMHS, where the boys hadn’t been able to practice or play for two season, to continue the celebration. Unlike years past, we could not get into the gym to cut down the nets (and I’m not so sure Cherry Hill East, as accommodating as the administration had been for the last two seasons, would have been up for net-cutting on John Valore Court), but nobody seemed to mind that our celebration was limited to the front courtyard. Gwen Isner, whose wonderful photos you have been enjoying throughout this article, kept clicking away, as did the players’ and coaches’ families, friends, and fans. (I tried to coax the boys into posing in front of the placard for the high school musical, which was, ironies of ironies, West Side Story, but to no avail.) Coach Wiedeman, who for some reason did not have much of a voice left, addressed the Dawgs’ adoring throng. He talked about the adversity the team had overcome, the two years of never having a home game, their dedication to each other, and the way they never ever gave up, even when time did not seem to be on their side.
No one wanted to leave, but slowly the crowd started to disperse. Besides, for some of us lucky folks, the celebration was not ending, it was just moving to another venue: PJ Whelihan’s in Westmont. The team, their families, some of the coaches, and a few people like me who got to tag along took up a good chunk of the back room. I was at a pretty raucous table with the DePersias, Cerratos, Flemings, Epsteins, and John Batchelor (uncle to Mikey). We had a lot of fun just basking in the day and enjoying watching the boys laughing and sharing their success as not only teammates but friends who would forever share this lifelong memory of two amazing seasons.
Is It Next Season Yet?
While everyone is still no doubt savoring this last unbelievable 31-win season that culminated in the Dawgs successfully defending their Group 2 state title, I’m sure before long, the Dawg faithful will have one burning question on our collective minds: How many days before next season starts?