By Phil Anastasia
Gary Hettinger figured it was his last home game.
He tried to make it one of his best.
Hettinger collected 20 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks to lead Cherry Hill East to a 55-49 victory over Clearview on Monday afternoon in the first round of the South Jersey Group 4 boys' basketball tournament.
Hettinger, a 6-3 senior forward, generated 11 points and seven rebounds in the second quarter, as sixth-seeded Cherry Hill East outscored 11th-seeded Clearview, 18-4, to seize command of the game.
"I knew this very well could be my last game on this court," Hettinger said. "When you're out there on the court, you know that any mistake you make could mean the end of your season. And you don't want to see it end."
Sophomore guard Jake Silpe scored 14 points with four steals and four assists for Cherry Hill East (18-9), which advanced to face 3rd-seeded Shawnee or 14th-seeded Cherry Hill West in Wednesday's second round.
Senior forward Kenny McNichols scored 12 with 14 rebounds despite battling four trouble for Clearview (13-11).
"I'm proud of these guys," Clearview coach Tom Gross said. "We have a group of seniors who really have turned the program around the last two years."
Clearview took an 18-11 lead after one quarter as sophomore guard Gavin Bright scored eight points and the 6-4 McNichols scored four points with six rebounds.
But Cherry Hill East dominated the second and third quarters behind Hettinger and Silpe. The Cougars' active defense forced numerous Pioneers' turnovers and sharp ball movement resulted in open looks for junior guard Austin Wetzler (seven points) and senior forward Andrew Brown (seven points, six rebounds).
Senior guard Hank Davis added five points and three assists for Cherry Hill East, which snapped a four-game losing streak.
"We concentrated on making our defense our offense," Cherry Hill East coach Dave Allen said. "We were able to get out and create some turnovers and get out on our break."
Hettinger was a starter last season for a Cherry Hill East team that struck deep in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament, hosting eventual state champion Atlantic City in the sectional title game.
Hettinger said he remembers the urgency with which last season's seniors played in the post-season. He senses the same feeling among his classmates.
"You start to feel it about mid-season when guys are saying, 'We only have so many practices left, we only have so many games left,'" Hettinger said. "It really hit me the second half of our last (regular-season) game against Eastern. I was like, 'This is it. It's almost over.' I know I have to try to make the most of it."
Clearview 18 4 8 19 -- 49
Cherry Hill East 11 19 12 13 - 55
C:McCabe Reim 4, Adam Herman 8, Tom Heim 8, Gavin Bright 9, Kenny McNichols 12, Brian Lukacsy 2, Mark Wilheim 6.
CHE: Jake Silpe 14, Austin Wetzler 7, Hank Davis 5, Andrew Brown 7, Gary Hettinger 20, Ravin Patel 2.
Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.