Besides Shawnee, three other South Jersey basketball teams reached the state finals this season.
They all have something else in common.
Haddonfield, Woodbury, and Camden Catholic all put together sensational seasons. And all three could be even better next year.
“We should be good,” Haddonfield coach Paul Wiedeman said. “But nothing is going to be handed to us.”
Haddonfield went 29-4 and earned the Group 2 state title. The Bulldawgs beat four-time defending sectional champion Camden, as well as Central Jersey power Rumson-Fair Haven before handling North Jersey champion Newark Central in the state finals.
Haddonfield was led by junior guard Mike DePersia, who made one of the most memorable shots in recent program history with a put-back at 0:03 in a 54-53 overtime win over Camden in the sectional semifinals.
The Bulldawgs also are projected to return junior starters such as forwards Dan Fleming, who might be the team’s best outside shooter, and Dylan Heine, as well as swingman Aiden Blake.
In addition, sophomore forward Ben Cerrato could emerge as a key contributor next season after playing well in the Tournament of Champions quarterfinals loss to Group 3 state champion Nottingham.
Haddonfield will lose senior guards Will Bond and Ben Schroeter, among others.
“We’re winning this game next year,” DePersia said after the loss to Nottingham.
Woodbury went 21-12 and won the first state title in the history of the program.
The Thundering Herd captured the Group 1 crown behind junior Aaron Estrada, who averaged 22.2 points and played his best basketball in the state tournament.
Other key players projected to return for Woodbury include junior guard T.J. Carter, who scored 13 in the Tournament of Champions loss to Shawnee, as well as junior guards JayShawn Harvey and Andre Parker.
The Thundering Herd will lose senior forward Hakeen Thomas and senior guard Marcus McGruder, a top defender.
“Marcus McGruder was our leader,” Woodbury coach Mark DiRugeris said. “We’re going to have to find a way for the other guys to step up, because we will miss him and Hakeem inside, too.
“We have a lot of guys back and they gained a lot of experience and confidence in this tournament run. But now they have to build on that.”
Camden Catholic went 23-7 and won the program’s first Non-Public South A title since 2010.
The Irish lost to Don Bosco Prep in the state finals.
Camden Catholic will lose senior swingman Dominic Dunn, a 1,000-point scorer for his career who generated 18 points in a top effort in the loss to Bosco.
But the Irish are projected to return five of their top six players, including starters such as junior forwards Baba Ajike and Uche Okafor, junior guard Pat Corbett, and sophomore guard Hakim Melvin.
Camden Catholic beat two-time defending sectional winner St. Augustine Prep on the road in the semifinals and topped Central Jersey power St. Joseph of Metuchen in the South A title game.
“The key word is ‘experience,’ ” Camden Catholic coach Matt Crawford said after the loss to Bosco. “Just everything that we went through, with the long bus rides, the games in these environments.
“We should be good next season but nothing is handed to you. We have to work hard.”
Quite the debut
DiRugeris, who played at Woodbury, became the first South Jersey coach in 22 years to win a state title in his first season, according to sports historian Chuck Langerman.
The last was Mike Ricci, who won the Group 1 state title in his first season at Paulsboro in 1996. Ricci currently is the coach at Haddon Heights.
DiRugeris’ team entered the state tournament with a 15-11 record, as the No. 3 seed in South Jersey Group 1 and with three straight losses.
But the Thundering Herd caught fire in the postseason, with Estrada leading the way and DiRugeris getting his athletes to play some of their best basketball on the biggest stages.
“We went through some ups and downs,” DiRugeris said. “But the kids kept working hard, and they bought into what we were telling them as the season went along.”
This and that
Haddon Heights (23-5) senior Jared Latane finished his career as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,857 points. … Senior Matt Cotton, a transfer from St. Benedict’s, played in just 13 games for Eastern (20-9) but made a major impact and averaged 18.5 points.
Glassboro (23-6) went 12-3 down the stretch with losses to three South Jersey champions in Haddonfield, Delsea and Woodbury. … Senior Ray Bethea Jr., a Howard recruit, averaged 25 points and 7.6 rebounds for Atlantic City (25-5) and set South Jersey’s single-game high this season with 46 vs. Pleasantville.
Senior Mike Ginyard averaged 18.25 points in four tournament games as Seneca (17-13) reached the sectional finals for the first time in program history. The Golden Eagles lost to Delsea in the South Jersey Group 3 title game. … Behind senior guard Kolby Braxton and junior guard Javon Gordon, Delsea (25-6) was 23-3 after the New Year, with two of the losses to state champions in Shawnee and Nottingham. …
Senior guard Caleb Fields, a Bowling Green recruit, averaged 21.1 points and shot 81 percent from the foul line for Wildwood Catholic (26-3), which set a school record for wins in a season. The Crusaders were a 72-70 loss to Eastern and a 60-59 loss to Atlantic City away from a 26-0 regular season. … St. Joseph (21-7) junior Marcellus Ross averaged 23.1 points and made 75 three-pointers.
St. Augustine (21-7) senior guard Travis Stoll scored 20 in his final game for the Hermits, an overtime loss to Camden Catholic in the Non-Public South A semifinals. All seven of the Hermits’ losses were to Top 10 teams. … Seniors Isaiah Sanders and Maurce Murray averaged 17.8 and 17.3 points, respectively, for Timber Creek (20-7).
Paul VI (15-13) freshman Wisler Sanon averaged 18.2 in the Eagles’ final four games and scored 24 in the overtime loss to St. Augustine in the South A tournament . . . Pleasantville (16-10) senior Divine Anderson scored 27, 26 and 25 points in his final three games.
Northern Burlington (20-9) senior Josh Jackson averaged 23.3 points in his last three games and reached the 1,000-point plateau. … Camden (21-6) senior Myles Thompson, a St. Francis’ recruit, averaged 16.5 points and 11.6 points and scored in double figures in the last 13 games of his career.
Moorestown (24-6) senior Connor Dickerson scored 20 in his last game, an overtime loss to eventual Group 3 state champion Nottingham in the Central Jersey sectional title game. … Lenape (16-9) senior Andrew Sims scored 30 in his final game, a loss to Millville in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament. … Sterling (20-8) coach Harold Little finished the season with 352 career victories including stints at Highland and Lindenwold.