CHERRY HILL – Their goal all year had to wait. Those pesky regular season games were on the schedule. And then the first couple of rounds of the playoffs had to be dealt with before the Game.
Now, The High and Haddonfield is on.
After losing at the buzzer against Camden in the title game of the South Jersey Group 2 tournament last season, Haddonfield reached their quest to play The High again.
First, the focused Bulldawgs had to survive a tough quarterfinal game against Colonial Conference rival Haddon Heights – the two teams split during the regular-season. But, after trailing by six points early in the third quarter, second-seeded Haddonfield responded with 12 unanswered points to outlast the Garnets, the No. 7 seed, 52-45, Thursday night.
Haddonfield, which has played its home games at Cherry Hill East this year, plays Camden, the third seed, on Saturday afternoon at the Cherry Hill West gym. The East gym, which was jammed packed with over 2,000 fans to see the two neighbors battle, is booked Saturday so the game has been moved across town.
“After the game, it was business like,” Haddonfield coach Paul Wiedeman said when asked about the season-long goal to meet Camden again “We weren’t over excited, we knew we had to beat Heights first, but in the back of their minds was Camden.”
Haddonfield (25-3) is ranked No. 6 in the South Jersey Sports Digest Top Ten. The Bulldawgs finished the regular season with a 2-point win over Glassboro and a one-point win over Burlington City before coasting against No. 15 Cape May Tech on Tuesday.
“Our guys really like to compete,” Wiedeman said. “They are fun to coach.”
Wiedeman has done a masterful job on the sideline despite three starters - juniors Mike DePersia and Dan Fleming and senior Mike Bond - being out at once during January. The former star point guard for the Bulldawgs also kept his team from not looking ahead to Camden, which posted a 68-58 win over No. 6-seeded Sterling in the quarterfinals.
“Ever since last year, the game has been in the back of our heads,” DePersia said about meeting up again with Camden. “But we knew this would be a tough game and it would be a ridiculous atmosphere here, and it was, and we had to get by Heights first.
“Coach Wiedeman prepared us well.”
Heights, which nipped 10th-seeded Pleasantville in the opening round 80-78, finished their spectacular season 23-4.
Garnets coach Mike Ricci has good young talent to build around, but looses senior star guard Jared Latane, who scored 37 points against the Greyhounds Tuesday to pass Doug Miller’s school record of 1,815 points in 1971.
A 3-pointer by Latane handed Heights a 32-26 lead with 6:45 to play in the third quarter. However, Haddonfield answered with a 12-0 run over the next 4:05.
In the fourth quarter, the athletic 6-foot-7 Fleming opened the final frame with a 3-pointer for a 43-35 lead.
“We were trying to get the ball inside, but the outside shot was there,” said Fleming, who finished with 19 points and scored 10 of the Bulldawgs first 13 points. “And my shot was working.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” added Fleming on earning a rematch with Camden, which is ranked No. 2 in the SJSD Top Ten and its quest to win the elusive 12th state title. “Now it is here."
Haddon Heights 13 14 8 10 - 45
Haddonfield 15 11 14 12 - 52