It was a long season.
It began with a practice on Nov. 20 and ended with a loss on March 13.
In between, there were bus rides to “home” games and workouts in the middle-school gymnasium and 29 victories, including five of mounting importance in the month of basketball madness.
“We talked about that,” Haddonfield coach Paul Wiedeman said after his team’s 64-52 loss to Nottingham in the quarterfinals of the Tournament of Champions Tuesday night at Toms River North. “We’re still state champs.”
Haddonfield (29-4), the Group 2 champion and No. 5 seed, scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to take a 50-48 lead, but Nottingham closed the game with a 14-2 run to advance to the Tournament of Champions semifinals.
Nottingham (30-2), the Group 3 champion and No. 4 seed, will meet top-seeded Roselle Catholic (27-4) in Thursday night’s second semifinal back at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena.
“We kind of ran out of gas,” Haddonfield junior guard Mike DePersia said of the game’s final minutes.
DePersia scored 12 points with seven rebounds and seven assists but felt he was below peak performance because of illness. “I didn’t play my best game,” DePersia said.
DePersia, a clever lefthander, vowed to return with a team that losing just two seniors who played major minutes. “We’re going to win this game next year,” DePersia said.
Haddonfield junior Aiden Blake, a starting swingman, missed the game with illness.
That last bit of adversity of typical for the Bulldawgs, who played all season without a home court because of construction at the school and also lost senior guard Will Bond, their leading scorer, for 17 games with a broken wrist.
“How are you going to deal with practicing in a middle-school gym?” Wiedeman said. “How are you going to deal with playing ‘home’ games at Cherry Hill East? With playing Camden at Cherry Hill West [in the sectional semifinals]. With being on tough side of the bracket?
“We won 29 games. We won a loaded South Jersey Group 2. We won the state championship.”
Haddonfield almost won a Tournament of Champions game, too.
Trailing by 10 in the third quarter, the Bulldawgs rallied as sophomore Ben Cerrato bounced off the bench and scored six straight, including a four-point play.
Cerrato’s layup, DePersia’s floater in the lane and Lewis Evans’ putback comprised the 6-0 run that opened the fourth quarter, brought the Haddonfield faithful to their feet and forced Nottingham to take a timeout down 50-48.
But the North Stars responded as Richie Jones hit a three-pointer and Kostro Montino hit another one.
“The kid hits a three and then they got an offensive rebound and kick out for another three,” Wiedeman said. “Maybe we did lose our legs.”
Nottingham pulled away at the foul line, making seven of eight for a 61-50 lead with 0:38 on the clock.
At that point, Wiedeman empted his bench to allow his top players to walk to the sideline under a shower of applause from the fans who made the last road trip of a season filled with road trips.
“They were road warriors,” Wiedeman said.
Haddonfield 11 17 16 8 — 52
Nottingham 18 13 17 16 — 64
H: Mike DePersia 12, Dan Fleming 14, Ben Schroeter 3, Will Bond 5, Dylan Heine 6, Lewis Evans 2, Ben Cerrato 8, Mike Schroeter 2.
N: Richie Jones 17, Cliff Jospeh 7, Darell Johnson 15, Kostro Montino 7, Ku’jane Johnson 16, Deonte West 2.