By Phil Anastasia
For the first 27 minutes and 45 seconds of Saturday's Olympic Conference basketball game, Cherry Hill East junior Austin Wetzler had zero points.
And he wasn't alone in struggles to score against Cherokee.
"They play such great defense," Cherry Hill East coach Dave Allen said of the Chiefs.
Wetzler scored five points in the final four minutes and 15 seconds, including the go-ahead basket with 0:39 on the clock, to lift Cherry Hill East to a 36-35 victory in a taut American Division clash in Cherokee's gymnasium.
Senior forward Andrew Brown scored 14 with six rebounds and sophomore guard Jake Silpe added 12 points and four assists for Cherry Hill East (8-2 overall, 3-0 in the division), which won its sixth in a row.
Junior guard Kevin Wixted scored 13 and junior guard Kyle Kahriger added eight points and three steals for Cherokee (4-5, 0-4).
The Chiefs have lost five games by a total of 13 points to four teams that have a combined record of 31-5.
"Our kids are hurting but that's a good thing because it shows how much they care," Cherokee coach Matt Shultz said. "We have to try to turn the corner."
Cherry Hill East also beat Cherokee 44-42 on Dec. 20.
"Two games, one possession," Allen said of the difference between the teams.
Cherokee held a 33-27 lead after Wixted's driving layup with a little less than five minutes to play. At the time, the Chiefs had held the Cougars to 11 points since the first quarter.
"We knew it was going to be tough because of the way they play defense," Brown said.
Wetzler hit a three-pointer from the left side off a feed from Gary Hettinger to make it 33-30.
"I took a bad shot in the first half and I wasn't going to shoot again unless I had an open look," Wetzler said.
Hettinger's jumper made it 33-32 but Wixted hit a pair of free throws to give Cherokee a 35-32 lead with 3:02 on the clock.
Brown's put-back made it 35-34 at 1:08. Wetzler deflected a pass and took a fast-break feed from Hank Davis for the go-ahead layup at the 0:39 mark.
"Hank made a great pass," Wetzler said.
Cherokee nearly took the lead when junior forward Jake Powell (four points, seven rebounds, three blocks) took a nice feed from senior guard Anthony Fiorvanti off an inbounds play. But Powell's layup rimmed out at the 0:05 mark.
"It was halfway down," Shultz said. "When it came out, I said, 'We have some bad karma today.'"
Cherry Hill East 16 5 6 9 -- 36
Cherokee 13 7 9 6 -- 35
CHE: Jake Silpe 12, Austin Wetzler 5, Andrew Brown 14, Gary Hettinger 5, Hank Davis 0.
C: Anthony Fiorvanti 1, Kyle Kahriger 8, Kevin Wixted 13, Ben Handel 2, Jake Powell 4, Paul Bellamy 2, Rob Rice 5.
Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.