On his way to the foul line with the score tied and the crowd holding its breath with a little more than three seconds remaining in the game, Aaron Estrada sized up the situation.
He realized he was right where he belonged.
“In my head I was like, ‘This is where I want to be this year,’” Estrada said.
The Woodbury junior wants the ball in his hands in crucial situations. He wants the responsibility. He wants to stand on the foul line with the score tied at 45 in a second-round playoff game and the boisterous Woodbury students with their hands in the air in anticipation.
Estrada, a guard, sank the first free throw for the winning point Wednesday night in Woodbury’s 46-45 victory over Haddon Township in a South Jersey Group 1 quarterfinal at Cap Paine Gymnasium.
“I want to be that guy this year” said Estrada, who led all scorers with 27 points while also grabbing six rebounds and making the defensive play of the game to set up his trip to the foul line with 0:03.4 on the clock.
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The victory propelled third-seeded Woodbury (17-11), the defending sectional champion, into Friday night’s semifinals at second-seeded Penns Grove.
The loss was heartbreaking for sixth-seeded Haddon Township (15-11), which earned a standing ovation from its fans on its way to the locker room.
The Hawks rallied from deficits of 10-0, 18-6 and 22-10 to take the lead behind the play of junior Brian Burns, who scored 17 points, and sophomore Eric Shuttleworth, who scored 14.
Haddon Township senior Jackson Landgraf also made the shot of the game, a half-court buzzer-beater that gave the Hawks a 32-31 lead after three quarters.
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“I couldn’t be more proud of these kids,” Haddon Township’s first-year coach, Paddy McNamara, said of his team, which started a junior, two sophomores and a freshman.
Woodbury had beaten Haddon Township twice in Colonial Conference play this season, both times by five points. The Herd looked to be in firm command in the first half, as Estrada scored all 13 of his team’s points in the second quarter.
“He’s the man this year,” Woodbury coach Mark DiRugeris said of Estrada. “He knows he’s going to be the focus of every team we play.”
Haddon Township chipped away at the lead and finally forged in front when Landgraf launched a shot from the big painted “W” at midcourt that hit nothing but net at the third-quarter buzzer.
“That was crazy,” Estrada said.
The fourth quarter was tense, with Haddon Township building a 37-31 lead behind Burns and Shuttleworth and Woodbury fighting back behind Estrada and junior guard Tommy Carter.
“He’s so poised,” McNamara said of Estrada. “He hits that three with 2:25 on the clock. He was so calm. Like nothing bothers him.”
The game rumbled down the stretch, with fans from both sides on their feet.
Burns’ bucket gave Haddon Township a 45-43 lead at 1:12, but senior guard Marcus McGruder answered with a driving hoop for Woodbury with a minute to play.
The Hawks held for a last shot, but Estrada made a steal and drew a foul to set up the winning free throw.
“Marcus [McGruder] is our best defender, but I’m our second-best,” Estrada said. “I knew I had to make a play. Big-time players make big-time plays.”
Haddon Twp. 6 12 14 13 – 45
Woodbury 12 13 6 15 – 46
HT: Brian Burns 17, Jackson Landgraf 9, Eric Shuttleworth 14, Brendan Mulligan 2, Brett Hintz 3.
W: Aaron Estrada 27, Tommy Carter 5, Marcus McGruder 4, Andre Parker 4, Iasaiah Bailey 4, JayShawn Harvey 2.