GLASSBORO – Aaron Estrada is aware that on the basketball floor, opposing teams are focused on shutting him down.
This is not lost on first-year Woodbury head coach Mark DiRugeris, who made it clear at the start of the season to the junior big man, that he had to get others involved.
Finally, fellow junior Tommy Carter knew that to open space for Estrada, he’d have to help bring energy to spread the floor.
All three facets were on display Tuesday night as Woodbury beat Glassboro 63-52 in the South Jersey Group 1 Final. The title is the second straight for the Thundering Herd (19-11) who spread out the scoring among eight players but were led by Estrada’s 20 points and six rebounds.
“We didn’t want to take a step back this year,” said Estrada, whose team beat both second seeded Penns Grove and top-seeded Glassboro for the title. “We need everyone involved and tonight we all contributed.”
The night didn’t start off well but that caught no one in blue and gold by surprise.
“Sometimes we need to take a team’s best shot to wake up,” said Carter, who had nine points and pestered Glassboro’s Anthony Mitchell for most of the night defensively. “We knew they would come out strong and that’s something you have to overcome. We don’t want to fall behind but when we do, we have enough confidence to battle back.”
Glassboro (23-6) opened the game on a 13-4 run sparked by Mitchell, who scored a game-high 22 points after his first bucket of the night gave him 1,001 for his career.
“That didn’t bother me,” DiRugeris said. “There’s always a lot of emotion and when he scored that first basket they had the momentum. To be honest, I was more worried when we started the fourth down. I told my team, ‘this is exactly like Penns Grove. They thought the game was over after the third. We have to show them we have eight more minutes.”
The Herd owned the final quarter in large part due to 17 made free throws, eight of which were by Estrada. Glassboro meanwhile struggled all night from the line shooting below 50%.
“We spend 20-to-25 minutes every practice working on our free throws,” Carter said. “Obviously it’s worth it.”
At the same time, Glassboro didn’t surrender easily but Estrada did provide the one moment that signified this game was the Herd’s to lose. Up two 51-49, the junior point guard – even though he is the tallest starter on the team – grabbed a rebound and went the length of the court for a layup with 2:22 to play in the game. A 53-49 lead may not appear insurmountable but the feeling on the Woodbury side said something completely different.
“You could feel the energy change,” Estrada said. “That’s when we knew this game was ours to win.”
Woodbury junior Aaron Estrada drives to the basket in the first half of the Thundering Herd's 62-53 win in the South Jersey Group 1 Final
Thundering Herd 63, Bulldogs 52
Glassboro 17--12--15-- 8----52
W: Isaiah Bailey 7, Tommy Carter 9, Aaron Estrada 20, JayShawn Harvey 4, Marcus McGruder 9, Andre Parker 10, Hakeem Thomas 4.
G: Isom Golden 6, John Maldonado 2, Anthony Mitchell 22, Kyree Myers 5, Nizair Scott 8, Kwandel Tokley 9.