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NJSIAA Group III Semifinal

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

At Brick Memorial High School, 7 p.m.

Wall (24-6) vs. Timber Creek (24-5)

From the moment the final buzzer sounded in last year’s NJSIAA Group III semifinal between Wall and Moorestown, Wall’s players – still absorbing the gravity of their season-ending, 64-44 loss to the eventual overall Group III champions – already started to envision the future possibilities. Even their one senior starter – Trey Dombroski – went on to lead the baseball team to an overall Group III title before heading off to Monmouth.

For the rest of the team, their sights were set on coming back even stronger in 2020 and on Wednesday, on the same Brick Memorial High School court where their 2018-19 run ended, the Crimson Knights will get a chance to show how far they have come and how far they can still go.

In many ways, Wall is in a position similar to the one Moorestown was in a year ago. The Quakers lost in the 2018 Central Group III sectional final, returned the following year with more experience and parlayed all of that experience into a run to the Tournament of Champions semifinal, where they lost to eventual champion Ranney.

Wall senior Quinn Calabrese. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Wall will not get a chance to beat Moorestown – which was the No. 1 seed in South Jersey but lost at home to Cherry Hill West in the sectional semifinals – but will have to get by an equally-formidable Timber Creek squad. Should the Crimson Knights succeed, it could signal their readiness to travel to Rutgers and capture the program’s first overall Group III championship.

In order to get the job done, Wall will have to deal with a Chargers team that boasts a mix of size, skill and athleticism. Senior and 6-foot-6 forward Demetrius Paynter will be a potential matchup problem for a Wall team that doesn’t go bigger than 6-3, while 6-3 senior Justin Bladen and 5-11 senior point guard Eric Benjamin are the primary threats on the perimeter.

Against the best teams on its schedule, Wall has either played the game close and pulled it out, or lost control early and was unable to catch up. One exception was a four-point loss to North 2 Group III champion Irvington – a potential opponent in the Group III final.

During this postseason run, senior Quinn Calabrese and junior Pat Lacey have been offensive constants, with Calabrese averaging 16.75 points in the four Central Jersey III wins and Lacey averaging 18 per game, including a 31-point outing in the semifinals vs. Allentown.

Junior forward Logan Peters has been a workhorse in the paint and on the boards and will be critical in dealing with Paynter. Sophomore point guard Colin Ackerman shot the ball well in a 13-point outing Monday vs. Neptune and senior Michael Caputo and junior Tom Palluzzi have had key moments in the tournament as well – with Palluzzi’s coming on Monday night when he hit the shot to send the game into overtime.

Timber Creek is coming off a too-close-for comfort win over Cherry Hill West on Monday, when the Chargers built a 20-point third-quarter lead at home, only for the Lions to pull within three points with just under a minute to go. Wall, meanwhile, erased a five-point deficit in the final 40 seconds to push the Central Group III final vs. Neptune into overtime and dominated the extra session to pull out a second straight CJ III championship.

Wall has already completed an unprecedented two-year run for the program, which has had back-to-back division champions back in 1972-73 and 1973-74, but never before won consecutive sectional championships. In a lot of ways, Wall is playing for extra credit right now but when that means potentially earning a trip to the RAC and playing for a spot in the Tournament of Champions, there is no doubt the Crimson Knights want more. Riding high off Monday’s dramatic win, Wall is likely to go into Wednesday an inspired, focused and battle-tested team.

 

The Pick: Wall, 61-60