Slow start dooms C.H. East

Cherry Hill East's Phil Cunha and Trenton's Naz Mckoy tangle for a loose ball in the third quarter. (Ron tarver/Staff Photographer)

When Austin Wetzler looks back at his senior season for the Cherry Hill East boys' basketball team, he will skip over the final 32 minutes and get right to the good stuff.

The 23 victories.

The 18-1 home record.

The first South Jersey title in the 45-year history of the program.

"We'll always be able to say we were the first team to win a South Jersey title," Wetzler said after Cherry Hill East's historic season came to a crashing conclusion.

Central Jersey champion Trenton used its speed and defensive pressure to bolt to 16-0 lead and cruised to a 55-36 victory over East in the Group 4 state semifinals Thursday night at Egg Harbor Township.

Senior guard Nazier McCoy scored 20 points for Trenton (27-2), which advanced to face the Linden-Paterside Eastside winner in the Group 4 state final Sunday at Rutgers.

Junior guard Jake Silpe scored 21 for Cherry Hill East (23-8).

"We knew they were fast," Silpe said. "But I think we got a little overwhelmed by the speed of the game in the first quarter."

East never recovered from the first quarter. The Cougars were 0 for 10 from the field and committed 11 turnovers in falling behind by 14-0 after eight minutes.

"We just had too many turnovers, missed too many shots," East coach Dave Allen said.

Wetzler said the Cougars were "beat down" by a grueling season that featured intense competition in the Olympic Conference American Division as well as the Group 4 tournament.

In addition, Cherry Hill East probably lacked its mental edge after the emotional celebration of Tuesday's victory over Cherokee in the South Jersey Group 4 title game.

"We didn't come in with the same intensity and desire," Silpe said. "That Cherokee game, that was a key game for us."

Allen said the season was one of "incredible accomplishment" for a team that needed to rely on defense, ball movement, and outside shooting to compete against the better squads on its schedule.

"This wasn't my most talented team," said Allen, who has been a head coach at Eastern and Cherry Hill West and just completed his third season at his alma mater. "But these guys played so hard."

The Cougars started 15-1 but hit a rough stretch with six losses in seven games. They recovered late in the regular season, then beat Absegami, Cherry Hill West, Eastern, and Cherokee in the tournament to capture the program's first sectional title.

The 52-41 victory over Cherokee before a capacity crowd that included hundreds of red-clad students who stormed the court in celebration was the highlight of the season.

That's what Wetzler, Silpe, and their teammates will remember when they look back on this season.

"We did something that's never been done before," Silpe said. "No matter what happened in this game, we're still champions."

Trenton 14 15 15 11 - 55

Cherry Hill East 0 10 12 14 - 36

T: Shaquan Worthy 9, Brandon George 5, Nazier McCoy 20, Herbert Ellis 8, Kenar Gulley 11, Daniel Peyton 2.

CHE: Jake Silpe 21, Austin Wetzler 2, Tom Smierciak 1, Tim Perry 6, Azlan Cobb 6.