ERIAL – Timber Creek basketball coach Richard Bolds has experienced his share of heartache.
The Chargers had not won a sectional title in 12 years and they’ve had their chances during that time, but they finally exorcised all the demons Monday evening.
With senior Demetrius Paynter dominating inside and scoring a team-high 16 points and classmates Justin Bladen and Eric Benjamin scoring 15 and 14 respectively, Timber Creek turned back a furious Cherry Hill West comeback to win, 66-59, and capture the South Jersey Group 3 championship.
“It means a lot,” said Bolds, who became the head coach in 2011. “It means a lot to Timber Creek, the kids, the fans and it means a lot to me because there has been a lot of heartaches, but this is well worth it.”
Paynter, who along with Austin Greene, dominated in the lane against the smaller Lions, said the championship was the result of four years of hard work.
“This is what we have worked for four years, actually our whole life, a championship,” Paynter said. “This means everything to us.”
Greene, who finished with eight points, echoed Paynter’s sentiments.
“This means a lot after all the hard work we put in, in practice, in the summer through boot camp,” Greene said. “This is the same team because we only lost two seniors last year, but it's different because we do have two new guys in there. So, it means a lot to win it all.”
It was a game where the momentum seemed to be always changing.
Cherry Hill West led early 5-2, but Timber Creek finished the first quarter with a 20-2 run to take a 22-7 lead. Bladon hit two three-pointers and had eight points, while Benjamin and Jalen Bergen had five apiece in the period.
The pace settled down a bit in the second quarter and Cherry Hill West had Justin Smith score six of his 18 points to stay within striking distance, trailing at halftime, 32-18.
“We told them at halftime, they’re going to come back,” Bolds explained. “We just had to hold on and make sure we had the right people in the game in the right spot.”
The teams combined for 47 points in an up-and-down third quarter. The Lions Hakim Melvin hit four three-pointers and had 14 of his game-high 23 points as Cherry Hill West continued to hang around. Timber Creek employed Paynter and Greene in a high-low set and the two took turns feeding each other. The pair combined for 11 points to help Timber Creek maintain an 11-point lead, 54-43.
“The high-low has worked the whole season,” Greene said. “It’s been our bread and butter. I can go high or low, Demetrius can go how or long. It’s worked all season.”
Cherry Hill West started to pressure the ball in the fourth quarter and with Smith and Melvin scoring five apiece, the Lions got within 61-57 with 1:27 left, but Timber Creek hit eight of nine foul shots in the period and Bladen slammed home a fast-break dunk with 20 seconds left to capture the title.
“Everybody knows free throws are the biggest part of the game,” Paynter said. “Being able to make those free throws was huge.”
“We knew they were going to make a run,” Blayden said. “Not that I wanted them to, but we knew it was coming. But we have been in these situations plenty of times so we knew how to handle them.
“This means everything for all the students that were here, all the alumni that were here. We wanted to do it for them.”
Timber Creek, now 24-5, advances to the New Jersey Group 3 state semifinals where it will meet Wall, a 56-51 winner over Neptune in overtime. That game will be played Wednesday night at Brick Memorial at 7 p.m. Cherry Hill West finished with a 21-9 record.
Timber Creek 66, Cherry Hill West 59
CHW 7 11 25 16 - 59
TC 22 10 22 12 - 66
CHW – Jordan Lipford 6, Justin Smith 18, Tyreke Huff 3, Hakim Melvin 23, Stephen Flynn 6, Josh Ross 3.
Timber Creek – Kolby Miller 6, Justin Bladen 15, Eric Benjamin 14, Austin Greene 8, Jaylen Bergen 6, Demetrius Paynter 16.