Staring at the end of his career, Mike DePersia could have blinked.
Same goes for the rest of the Haddonfield seniors.
Instead, DePersia buried a three-pointer from deep behind the line.
Instead, his classmates regrouped and put the finishing touches on another state championship.
“I felt like if I was going to go out, I was going to go out shooting,” DePersia said after leading Haddonfield to a 64-53 victory over Newark West Side in the Group 2 state final Sunday at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
DePersia scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. No play was bigger than his deep jumper at the 6-minute, 10-second mark that produced a 46-44 lead, erasing Haddonfield’s first deficit since the middle of the first quarter.
About a minute later, DePersia slithered through three defenders for a layup and a 48-44 lead.
“No moment is too big for him,” Haddonfield coach Paul Wiedeman said of his four-year starter at point guard.
DePersia was far from the only hero as Haddonfield (31-1) captured its second straight state title, tied the school record for victories in a season and advanced to the Tournament of Champions, which begins Wednesday night at Toms River North High School.
Football star Drew Gavranich, nicknamed “Big Time Gav” for his timely play-making in both sports, bounced off the bench and led all scorers with 17 points while also grabbing seven rebounds.
Gavranich’s three-pointer from the corner at the 3:25 mark gave Haddonfield a 53-47 lead.
“I just came in and did my job,” Gavranich said. “I just wanted to grab some rebounds, hit open shots.”
Haddonfield, which is 60-5 over the last two seasons, also got strong work from seniors such as swingmen Dan Fleming (11 points) and Aidan Blake (seven points, seven rebounds) and forward Dylan Heine (10 points, six rebounds, four assists).
Heine’s passing from the paint created open looks as the Bulldawgs weathered the Rough Riders’ furious second-half rally.
“We just had to slow down and move the ball,” Heine said. “I knew we would get our lead back up.”
Haddonfield used a 21-0 run over eight minutes that spanned the first and second quarters to turn a 13-5 deficit into a 26-13 lead on Fleming’s driving bucket.
The Bulldawgs’ lead was 29-20 at the half and 39-24 on junior Ben Cerrato’s three-pointer midway in the third.
West Side (22-10) rallied with pressure defense that created numerous turnovers, fueling a 16-0 run capped when James Bell scored inside for a 44-43 lead early in the fourth.
“We knew what we were up against,” Wiedeman said of West Side’s defense. “But you can’t simulate that in practice unless you have 10 guys out there against five.”
As Haddonfield’s primary ball-handler, DePersia felt the brunt of West Side’s pressure. It was nothing new for the craft left-hander. He had been through the same thing in the sectional finals against Camden.
Once again, DePersia displayed the poise, creativity, and steely competitiveness that has marked his career. There was the deep three. There was the layup in traffic. There was a three-point play at the 1:11 mark, two free throws at 1:03 and finally a perfect, 60-foot pass to Blake for another three-point play that sealed the victory at 0:31.
“I didn’t want it to be my last game,” DePersia said. “I knew we needed a spark and I was able to push my team over the hump.”
Haddonfield 15 14 14 21 – 64
Newark West Side 13 7 20 13 – 53
H: Mike DePersia 16, Dan Fleming 11, Aidan Blake 7, Dylan Heine 10, Ben Cerrato 3, Drew Gavranich 17.