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HMHS Boys Basketball: SJ Group 2 playoffs

By Lauree Padgett / Exclusive to Haddonfield[dot]Today

Quarter- and Semifinal Games

The Haddonfield boys basketball teams battled two tough opponents this past week during the South Jersey Group 2 tournament. At home on Monday, 2/26, they went up against the Tigers of Lower Cape May. Wednesday was a long road trip down to Atlantic County to face the Middle Township Panthers, who were seeded number 2, behind Camden, in the Group 2 brackets. As you probably know by now, the Dawgs were victorious in one match and went down fighting in overtime in the second. Both were exciting, heart-pounding games as I’ll do my best to describe below.

SJ Group 2 Quarterfinal round—February 26, 2024: Lower Cape May at Haddonfield

I was concerned about this game. Just like in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, second-round games can often knock out the favored team. While the Dawgs had taken care of Manchester Township, who had a below .500 overall record, in the opening round, the game wasn’t a blowout. Lower Cape May was expected to be even more of a challenge.

Just as he had done in the opening seconds of the Manchester Township game, Phil McFillin hit a 3 to put the Dawgs on the board (but wasn’t fouled this time). Dawg fans had barely stopped cheering when the Tigers did the same to make it 3 all with about 40 seconds gone. Off a feed from Patrick Ryan, Nate Rohlfing went up and in and was fouled. His shot put the Dawgs up by 3 again, and again, the Tigers sent in a 3, tying it at 6 with 6:25 on the clock.

Haddonfield missed its next shot attempt, but Patrick Ryan got the offensive board, and this time McFillin passed it to Rohlfing in the paint, whose bucket made it 8–6, Dawgs. A leaping pickoff by Daire Roddy did not result in a basket for Haddonfield, but the Dawgs did get their first foul of the quarter, and then knocked the ball out of bounds. When Lower Cape May knocked down its third trey in a row to go up by 1, 9–8, there was a collective murmur in the Haddonfield section that sounded a lot like, “Ut-oh.”

To make matters worse, the Dawgs lost the ball out of bounds their next possession on a bad pass. Roddy came to the rescue with a steal, passed it to Sam Narducci, who hustled cross court for a basket. Now the Dawgs were up by 1, 10–9, with 3:46 left in the quarter. Roddy almost got another steal but instead was assessed with his first foul of the game. But then a few seconds later, he and Ryan did combine for a steal. Although the Dawgs’ first shot did not drop, Rohlfing pulled down the offensive board and put the ball in the net, making it 12–9, Dawgs, with 2:13 remaining.

Ryan blocked a Tigers’ shot, then pulled down the rebound. The Dawgs did not score, but Ryan not only got it back, he set up a slam from Rohlfing off a feed from Narducci with 37.2 on the clock. Naturally, the crowd rooting for the Dawgs went wild. Lower Cape May got the last 2 points of the quarter from the foul line, so when the horn sounded, the Dawgs were leading by 3, 14–11.

The Tigers and Dawgs exchanged missed shots to begin the second quarter. The first basket came off a steal by Narducci and a pass to Rohlfing from Zach Langan. Rohlfing’s fifth field goal of the half gave the Dawgs a 5-point, 16–11, advantage with 6:13 on the clock.

Lower Cape May called a timeout about 15 seconds later. Although Roddy blocked the Tigers’ shot attempt, they got it back and scored. At the other end, the Dawgs’ missed shot went out of bounds off the Tigers, and after the Dawgs inbounded, Langan set up Rohlfing for another bucket in the paint, pushing Haddonfield’s lead back to 5, 18–13. Roddy was all over the court and tipped the ball out of bounds. Lower Cape May made the most of getting the ball back, dropping in its 4th trey of the game and cutting the deficit down to 2, 18–16, with about 4:30 left in the half.

In what looked more like a foul than a steal, Lower Cape May got the ball back and missed the resulting shot. Narducci pulled down the defensive board and did one of his famous cross-court sprints to go up and in. The Dawgs’ 4-point lead only lasted for about 30 seconds, as the Tigers set up a 3-point basket (its fifth of the half, in case you hadn’t been counting), and all the sudden, it was a 1-point game, 20–19, with 3:26 to go until halftime.

Matt Morris got his own rebound off a missed shot and passed it to Narducci, who hit a nice jumper to give the Dawgs a 3-point edge, 22–19. It looked like that lead was going to go back down to 1 as a Tiger had a wide open shot under the basket—and totally missed it. Langan secured the board, passed it to Roddy, who fed it to Rohlfing. His hesitation move enabled Rohlfing to fake out the Tiger under the basket and score, and with 2:16 on the clock, the Dawgs were back to being up by 5, 24–19.

Lower Cape May called another timeout, but when play resumed, good pressure “D” by a trio of Dawgs tight to the line caused a Tiger turnover with just under 2 minutes to go in the half. The Dawgs almost lost the ball on an errant pass, but Morris saved it. He couldn’t prevent the missed shot by Mike Douglas, but Douglas hustled down to the other end of the court in time to block a Tiger shot and then with help from Rohlfing, picked off the ball. That was to no avail, as the next Dawg shot also did not go in.

This time, the Tigers’ shot dropped, and with 40.1 on the clock, it was back to a 3-point game with the Dawgs on top 24–21. The Dawgs lost their scoring opportunity with a pass misfire, and Lower Cape May took advantage, scoring again to get within 1, 24–23, with about 23 seconds to go until the half. The Dawgs waited until there were 3 seconds to shoot, the ball did not find the net, and as the players walked off the court, the Dawgs were only up by a point, 24–23.

That 1-point lead flipped to a 1-point deficit to start the third quarter. The Dawgs inbounded but did not score, and with 6:42 on the clock, the Tigers’ retook the lead, 25–24, with a 2-pointer. Before Dawg fans could start to get too uneasy, McFillin set up Rohlfing under the basket, and he put the Dawgs back on top by 1, 26–25, at the 6:20 mark. Under their basket, the Tigers grabbed that lead back, making it 27–26 in their favor with 6:11 left in the quarter.

A Lower Cape May foul sent the Dawgs to the sidelines to inbound the ball. Roddy, tasked with getting the ball in play, found an open Narducci beyond the arc, passed him the ball, and Narducci responded with his first, well-timed, trey of the game. The Dawgs’ 29–27 advantage lasted about 50 seconds. An offensive board by the Tigers enabled them to get a second-chance bucket and with 4:46 to go in the third, the game was in a dead heat at 29 all.

It was time for the Dawgs to show an extra layer of toughness and that’s what they did. It started with Patrick Ryan getting an assist on a basket by Rohlfing. Defense, Haddonfield’s not so secret weapon, caused a turnover, and this time, Ryan set up Narducci for his second trey in less than 2 minutes. The game had gone from being knotted at 29 with 4:46 on the clock to the Dawgs being ahead by 5, 34–29, with 4:00 minutes showing. The Tigers called a timeout.

Lower Cape May turned the ball over after the timeout on an offensive foul. Ryan, who is quick to react to anything on the court, saved an off-kelter pass, and then drove into the paint only to dish off the ball at the last second to Rohlfing, who was fouled. His first shot from the line dropped, but the second didn’t, and with 3:12 left in the half, the Dawgs’ lead had expanded to 6 points, 35–29.

At the other end of the court, Roddy was called for a foul. The usually unflappable Roddy got a bit, well, flappable, but Narducci and then McFillin came over to help him settle down. The Tigers went 1–2 at the line, so with 2:50 showing on the scoreboard, it was a 35–31 game. When the Dawgs got the ball to their end, they started passing, and with 2:11 on the clock, the Tigers committed their fourth foul of the quarter. Once the ball was inbounded, Roddy made a sweet pass to Rohlfing. His shot didn’t go in, but he got to the foul line again with 1:49 remaining in the quarter. Rohlfing’s first shot went in and out, and the second one went in and through the net.

The Tigers proved they still had some gas in their tank, nailing a 3 their next possession, which cut the Dawgs’ lead to 2, 36–34, with 1:36 on the clock. The two teams gave up the ball on bad passes, and when Haddonfield got the ball back, Narducci was fouled. He stepped to the line with 55.8 on the clock and both balls went swishing through the net, giving the Dawgs a 38–34 lead. A half-second after the buzzer, what would have been a 3 from the Tigers went in, but did not count. This meant the Dawgs were going to take that 4-point lead into the final quarter of play.

Lower Cape May had the possession arrow to start the fourth and got a much-too-easy 2 off an unguarded basket. Now it was 38–36 with 7:35 left in somebody’s season. It took some seconds off the clock before Roddy scored, but almost immediately, the Tigers got that bucket back to keep the Dawgs’ lead to 2 points, 40–38, with 6:16 on the clock. Morris got fouled under the Dawgs’ basket. He made the first but not the second shot, inching that lead up to 41–38.

Between shots, coach Paul Wiedeman made a somewhat surprising move that got the crowd a bit stirred up. When the quarter had started, Roddy, Morris, Ryan, Narducci, and Rohlfing had been on the court. Even though Rohlfing was responsible for 21 of the Dawgs’ 40 points, Wiedeman took him out and put in McFillin. This switch put his five quickest seniors on the floor. But would it pay off?

The results looked dicey at first, as the Tigers scored to get back to within 1, 41–40, with 5:33 on the clock. But then Ryan picked up where Rohlfing left off, and instead of setting up baskets, he started making them. His first came off a feed from Roddy. Roddy then grabbed a defensive board under the Tiger basket and down at the Dawg end, set up McFillin for a field goal. With 5 and change left, the Dawgs were up by 5, 45–40. The Tigers did not score, there was a scuffle for the basket that wasn’t pretty, but Ryan came up with it. And at the other end, off a feed from McFillin, Ryan got another 2 in the paint. Now it was 47–40, Dawgs, with half a period left in the game.

Lower Cape May called a timeout. Once back in play with the ball, their shot was deflected by Ryan. Roddy went in for a shot, ended up on his knees, and with 3:21, Lower Cape May was called for a foul. Apparently, the refs didn’t think Roddy had been in the act of shooting, so he did not get a trip to the foul line, and instead the Dawgs lost the ball out of bounds. Haddonfield then picked up a foul at the 2:55 mark, sending Lower Cape May to the foul line. Both shots went in, getting the Tigers back to within 5, 47–42.

Haddonfield had to inbound. Morris made a nice pass to get it in play, and then under the Dawg basket, McFillin set Ryan up for his third basket of the quarter, giving the Dawgs back a 7-point, 49–42, advantage with 2:24 on the clock. The fans and the players were feeling that a W was imminent. That feeling grew after Morris leapt up to block the Tigers’ next scoring attempt and Ryan dove onto the floor to go after the loose ball. Roddy inbounded but Haddonfield got stuck on the sidelines. Lower Cape May helped them out by committing a foul. A second later, they were called for another foul, their third of the quarter, and then about 13 seconds later, at the 1:31 mark, knocked the ball out of bounds.

After a missed Haddonfield shot, Ryan pulled down the offensive board and Wiedeman called a timeout with 1:10 left in the game. The Tigers sent another ball out of bounds before McFillin and Ryan combined for what would be the game’s last 2 points with 1:05 on the clock. When the horn sounded 65 seconds later, the Dawgs had played one of their best games of the season against a worthy opponent to best the Tigers 51–42. Rohlfing was high scorer with 21. Narducci added 14, and Ryan scored four big baskets in the fourth to finish with 8.

Quarter scores:

1st quarter: Haddonfield 14, Lower Cape May 11

2nd quarter: Haddonfield 10, Lower Cape May 12

Halftime: Haddonfield 24, Lower Cape May 23

3rd quarter: Haddonfield 14. Lower Cape May 11

4th quarter: Haddonfield 13, Lower Cape May 8

Final score: Haddonfield 51, Lower Cape May 12

Player scores:

Nate Rohlfing 21

Sam Narducci 14

Patrick Ryan 8

Phil McFillin 5

Daire Roddy 2

Matt Morris 1

South Jersey Group 2 Semifinal round—February 28, 2024: Haddonfield at Middle Township

Both Haddonfield and Middle Township, seeded fourth and second, respectively, went into Wednesday’s semifinal game with a 27–2 record. Both were also undefeated in their conferences. But Haddonfield was still the heavy “underdawg.” In fact, as Mark Hershberger and I were texting just ahead of the game (he was going to watch the stream, while I was at Middle Township), he said that as Camden was annihilating third-seeded Cinnaminson, the announcers were already talking about the South Jersey final versus Camden and Middle Township as if it were already a done deal. The prediction about a Panther vs Panther showdown did come to pass, but Haddonfield did not make it easy for Middle Township by any stretch of the imagination.

Middle Township won the tipoff to start the first quarter, but did not score. Patrick Ryan grabbed the defensive board, but Haddonfield was unable to even get a shot off due to a bad pass. The Panthers lost the ball to a Sam Narducci pickoff, and Haddonfield’s second possession ended on what could have been a trip to the foul line but instead was just a missed shot. Middle Township couldn’t score again, Nate Rohlfing got the defensive rebound this time, and another Haddonfield attempt failed to find the basket. It would take an offensive rebound by the Panthers off an airball to put points on the board at the 5:26 mark.

For the third straight game, the Dawgs’ first basket came from a Phil McFillin 3, which put the Dawgs up by 1, 3–1, with 5:03 left in the quarter. After a blocked shot by Rohlfing and a defensive rebound by Ryan, Narducci let loose with a shot behind the arc and the underdawgs  were now up 6–2 with about 4 minutes gone in the quarter. Good “D” by the Dawgs forced a Middle Township turnover, but Haddonfield could not take advantage of it, and instead got an iffy at best foul called on Rohlfing. (Unfortunately, more than once when Rohlfing was making a shot and seemed to be fouled, fouls were not called the other way.)

At their end, the Panthers scored a 2 and after a Dawg miscue on the floor that gave them back the ball, hit a 3 to go up by 1, 7–6, with 2:04 left in the quarter. Roddy drove in for a basket and Middle Township was called for an offensive foul. Haddonfield missed a shot and almost turned over the ball, but Ryan snatched it, and Narducci took it up and in with 37 seconds on the clock to put the Dawgs up 10–7. Middle Township played for the last shot, but did not score, so the first quarter ended with the Dawgs still ahead by 3.

Quarter 2 started out with Haddonfield inbounding and losing the ball on another miscommunication. Rohlfing’s blocked shot and defensive board got the ball back for Haddonfield. Ryan set him up for a shot, and Rohlfing was fouled hard. His first shot dropped; his second went in and out. Now the Dawgs were up by 4, 11–7, with about a minute and a half gone. More pressure “D” caused another Middle Township turnover and led to a 2 by Narducci off a Rohlfing pass. With 5:56 left in the half, it was 13–7, Dawgs. What was going on here?

A 3 from Middle Township followed by a blocked Haddonfield shot gave the Panthers back the ball. Not only did they score, they got a trip to the foul line and scored there as well. And in less than a minute, the Dawgs went from being up by 6 to being tied at 13. Two minutes passed with some traded turnovers/pickoffs and missed shots before a foul was called on Haddonfield. From the bench, Haddonfield coach Paul Wiedeman was heard to say, “On the floor,” meaning the foul should have been a non-shooting one. The ref did not agree with that assessment, and the Panthers picked up 2 more from the line to retake the lead 15–13 with 3:09 on the clock. A ball that was lost in transit by Haddonfield resulted in another 2, this time from the floor, by the Panthers.

With Middle Township now up by 4, 17–13, Haddonfield called a timeout at the 2:50 mark. That seemed to help, as off the inbound, Morris fed Rohlfing, who got his first basket from the field. That briefly closed the gap to 15–17, and the Dawgs had a chance to tie or go ahead after Rohlfing stole the ball. But after Haddonfield’s attempt did not go in, Middle Township responded with a 3 at the other end, which put them out in front by 5, 20–15, with 1:22 on the clock. At the Dawgs’ end, Rohlfing made for the basket but instead of going up and in, passed it out to an open McFillin, who knocked down a 3 with 53 seconds on the clock. Middle Township got the last basket of the half with 42 seconds on the clock, and when the buzzer sounded, the Dawgs were down by 4, 18–22.

Middle Township inbounded the ball to begin the second half, but Rohlfing tipped the ball to Narducci, who drove into the lane for 2 to cut the Panthers’ lead down to 2, 20–22, with about a minute gone. The Panthers answered with a 2 to push their advantage back to 4, 24–20. The Dawgs missed their next shot, but McFillin got the offensive board and then let loose with another 3, and with 6:00 on the clock, the Dawgs were back to within 1, 23–24. The Panthers’ next shot was an airball, but Haddonfield lost the ball under its basket. Rohlfing got another blocked shot, Middle Township was called for a foul, and then to the shock of almost everyone rooting for Haddonfield, Rohlfing was called for foul. This gave the ball back to the Panthers with 4:37 left in the quarter, and they scored to go up by 3, 26–23.

Narducci got the fans whooping when his ball swished in for 3 behind the arc to tie it at 26 with 4:04 on the clock, but that elation quickly faded when the Panthers went back up by 2 on a very easy basket. To make matters worse, the Dawgs, who are normally very efficient at handling and passing the ball, turned it over on yet another bad pass, but at least this time, it did not result in a basket by Middle Township. Haddonfield got two shots off its next possession but did not score. Roddy picked off the ball before the Panthers could set up a play, but for naught. And so this non-scoring went on for a few more trips up and down the court for both teams. I did not record the time, probably because I was too busy yelling, when McFillin launched a 3 that put the Dawgs up 29–28, but I did note that Middle Township lost the ball out of bounds with 4 seconds left, and the Dawgs did not get their last shot to go in. So as the fourth quarter started, instead of fading away, the underdawgs were up by 1 …

Haddonfield had possession to start the last quarter of regulation but could not score. Middle Township at the other end got a 3 to swing the lead back their way, 31–29, with 6:48 on the clock. A travel was called on Haddonfield, and the Dawgs then picked up two quick fouls. The second sent the Panthers to the line, where both foul shots were made. Now the Panthers’ lead was back to 4, 33–29, with 6:03 left in the fourth, and I think Haddonfield fans were wondering if they were going to start to pull away. A Narducci 3 was a firm reply that no, the Dawgs were not going to give up, and were back to within 1, 33–34.

Middle Township called a timeout with 4:52 on the clock and when play resumed, proceeded to bounce, bounce, bounce the ball with no real attempt to score for more than 2 minutes. That plan backfired when they were called for a walk with 2:48 left in the quarter. Another timeout was called, I believe this time by Haddonfield, even though I didn’t note it on my pad, at the 2:34 mark. I have been trying to decipher what I scribbled down next. All I can figure out is that it involved Rohlfing and ended with him driving into the paint for 2 to put the Dawgs on top by 1, 34–33.

At the Middle Township end, the Panthers got that basket back and were fouled in the process. Their foul shot gave them a 2-point, 36–34, edge with 2:08 on the scoreboard. It was nail-biting time as the Dawgs took the ball down to their end of the court. Narducci, not surprisingly, took the ball to drive in and was fouled. He stepped to the line with 1:37 to go and the season on the line. His first shot hit nothing but net. His second shot, equally perfect, tied the game at 36.

After a timeout, Middle Township went back into stall-ball mode and would not shoot. It was maddening. Roddy made a smart foul with 9.2 on the clock just as the Panthers were about to make a move, which broke up whatever play was in the works. Instead, the Panthers sent up an airball, and with about 2 seconds on the clock, the Dawgs flailed a shot off that missed the mark as the fourth quarter buzzer went off. Still tied at 36, the game was about to go into a 4-minute overtime, and Dawg fans were going nuts.

I wish this recap would end in a winning way for Haddonfield. But in OT, the Dawgs were held to a pair of foul shots by Rohlfing. While they did miss some shots that were a bit forced as OT ticked down, they were also limited by the times actually touched the ball, as Middle Township slowed the pace down again. With about 1:30 left in the game, after a near steal by Roddy when the ball also almost went out of bounds, the Panthers somehow recovered and an off-balance shot dropped in for a 3.

After Middle Township made 2 shots from the foul line that put them in front 46–38, Paul Wiedeman called a timeout so he could take his seniors out of the game as a final tribute to them as their season and careers came to an end. It was hard to watch them, looking a little shell-shocked, walk off the court and try to console each other, but at the same time, I wouldn’t have expected anything less from this group of seniors who had played together, grown together, and become good friends together. And while their playing days together may be over, I predict that the bond that they established as middle schoolers will remain unbroken no matter where life leads them.

Quarter scores:

1st: Haddonfield 10, Middle Township 7

2nd: Haddonfield 8, Middle Township 15

Halftime: Haddonfield 18, Middle Township 20

3rd: Haddonfield 11, Middle Township 6

4th: Haddonfield 7, Middle Township 8

OT: Haddonfield 2, Middle Township 8

Final, Haddonfield 38, Middle Township 46

Player scores:

Sam Narducci 17

Phil McFillin 12

Nate Rohlfing 7

Patrick Ryan 2

On the Upside

I wanted to end this piece in an upbeat way by giving a shout out to the HYBA (Haddonfield Youth Basketball Association) Girls Travel Team 7A. You may have heard about the incredible finish to their semifinal game on Sunday, 2/25, against Washington Township. The teams were tied in overtime with about 4 seconds to go when Sara Guveiyian stole the ball under the Washington Township basket and somewhere between the top of the 3-point arc and the midcourt line, let go a shot that soared over the court and into the net. (If you somehow missed seeing a video of this extraordinary feat on social media or the local news, here is my favorite replay of it: This Sunday, the Haddonfield Girls 7A traveled to Lenape High School to take on the Mt. Laurel girls, who Haddonfield had beaten twice already during the regular season. It’s tough to beat a team, at any level, three times in a row. And for a while, it looked like this was going to be the case. The 7A girls were down by 4 at the half. The second half seesawed back and forth, but Mt. Laurel seemed to be pulling away in the fourth. However, the 7A Haddonfield girls played really tough defense and forced turnovers that got them back in the game, as did some big-time foul shots. Still, Mt. Laurel had possession of the ball with the game tied at 22 with about 6 seconds to go. Sara stole the ball again, but this time, she passed it to Lane Barnes, whose shot went up and in, putting the Dawgs on top 24–22. Mt. Laurel had no timeouts and could not get a shot off. This was the third straight championship for the 7A Haddonfield girls. They played hard, never gave up, and stayed cool at the end of the game. Although she didn’t have the winning shot, Sara finished with four 3’s and 14 points. Congratulations to the team and their coaches for a stellar year and claiming the title once again!

One Last Article

The Haddonfield boys basketball team may not have won the South Jersey Group 2 title (and neither did Middle Township, who was, as expected, blown away by Camden two nights after their escape from Haddonfield’s clutches), but they had a tremendous year, finishing with a record of 27–3. That seems more than worthy of a final article that will take a look at some of their biggest wins and highlight as well individual player accomplishments.