MEDFORD – Although the gym was void of students from both schools who were returning from the Eagles’ parade, the game still packed a postseason feel and a win-or-go-home intensity.
Really, it was the type of game that both Sean Heine and Pat Fish dreamed about playing in while growing up together in Medford and playing basketball together for years at St. Mary of the Lakes.
However, with Heine attending Shawnee and Fish choosing Bishop Eustace, their dream shifted to wanting to play against each other, especially as seniors, in a game of this magnitude. After all, that is how best friends roll – they text after games to see how the other one played and then when playing against each other they compete like brothers in the driveway.
Sadly, though, Heine and Fish weren’t matched up against each other in Shawnee’s riveting 67-65 overtime win against visiting Bishop Eustace.
Earlier in the season, Heine suffered a knee injury that required surgery. The athletic 6-foot-3 swingman is sidelined for the season. Heine averaged 9.4 points a game last year as one of five starting underclassmen for the Renegades, which advanced to the Group 4 State Championship game where they lost to defending champion Linden.
“Pat has been my best friend since first grade and not being able to play against him was hard, but it was fun to watch him play,” Heine said.
With Heine supplying inspiration from the bench, Shawnee - the No. 3 ranked team by South Jersey Sports Digest - outscored No.10 Bishop Eustace 15-13 in the daring extra four minutes as both teams attacked offensively Thursday night.
“Sean is the most competitive player I’ve ever coached, he is always into the game,” Shawnee assistant Mike Spera, an upcoming rising young coach who should draw interests from any athletic director looking for a head coach after the season.
Heine sits next to Spera and assistant Dillion Fields, another rising young coach who was also a star player for the Renegades, and tries to do whatever he can to help the Renegades.
“He is into the game as much as the coaches,” added Spera. “He is an impressive kid.”
Spera and anyone who knows Heine, understands how much sitting and watching instead of shooting and competing is just crushing him inside. But, Heine doesn’t show the disappointment. Instead, the hurt transforms during the game into inspiration for his teammates.
“He is always really energetic,” said Shawnee senior point guard Dean Noll, who netted 33 points despite not scoring in the first quarter. “He gets up for every game and he gets the team going.”
A terrific player and competitor, but Noll even needs a boost of confidence at times. After a turnover in overtime, Noll said Heine told him “to keep your head in the game” during a timeout.
Noll did. He made all six of his free throw attempts in the overtime.
In addition to the advice, Noll also sees Heine as a dose of reality, which helps him enjoy the game even more and compete at a fiercest level.
“You always hear that the next game could be your last and I try to play as each play could be my last,” Noll said.
Both Shawnee and Eustace played like it could be there last game.
The Crusaders seized a 39-38 lead on seven-straight points by Peyton Vostenak, a swingman who can pull up for short jumpers as well as drain 3-pointers.
A 3-pointer, however by Shawnee senior forward Dylan Deveney gave the Renegades a 41-39 lead and set the stage for a fourth quarter that prepared both teams for March.
But, it was Vostenak who banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key with two seconds left in the fourth quarter to send the game into the extra session.
After the teams traded a pair of baskets, including a 3-pointer by the Crusaders Mattia Morini, a talented student from Italy who scored seven points in OT, Connor Deveney - the younger brother of Dylan – sank a 3-pointer from the wing for a 59-57 lead that held up for Shawnee.
On the bench, Heine celebrated the win with his teammates, while his buddy on the other team was hurting from the close loss and also for his childhood friend.
“When I first heard, I was really upset,” Fish said about Heine’s torn meniscus. “We were texting each other …
“It really hurts them without him.”
Shawnee coach Joe Kessler is also playing without junior guard Patrick Kernan, who averaged 7.9 points last year as a starter, but has been sidelined also this season.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” said Fish, who will attend Penn State and major in business.
As good as he is in basketball, Heine’s best sport is baseball. The hard-throwing pitcher was talented enough to commit to play at the University of Maryland before his junior year. The knee injury, however, will also keep him from playing baseball in the spring for the Renegades.
“I try to be a leader on the team even though I can’t play,” Heine said.
The tournament brackets came out earlier in the day and then the Renegades and Crusaders staged a game with playoff intensity, clutch shots and elite coaching.
Shawnee is the top seed in Group 4 and will host a quarterfinal game against 16th seeded Southern on Feb. 27.
The Crusaders are the sixth seed and will play at home against No. 11 Donovan on Feb. 28.
Bishop Eustace (13-5) has beaten No. 2 Timber Creek so slugging it out against No. 3 Shawnee shouldn’t have surprised anyone.
Shawnee (16-4) has defeated defending Group 3 champion Winslow and a Top Ten team in Eustace after losing a showcase game to Blair Academy last Saturday. The Renegades, who have lost to Gill St. Bernards, No. 2 Timber Creek, and Seneca, play against St. Thomas More (Del.) on Saturday.
And Heine will be there doing all he can to still help the Renegades.
“I try to do all I can to help the team,” Heine said. “I try to bring energy to the bench. We play better when we have energy, so I try to bring it.”
Bishop Eustace 9 12 18 13 13 - 65
Shawnee 8 17 16 11 15 - 67
BE – Vostenak 36, Cross 2, Morini 15, Sabato 2, McCaffaey 5, Fish 1, Swallow 4.
S- Kane Feudtner 4, Daevon Robinson 6, Connor Deveney 7, Dean Noll 33, Dylan Deveney 17.