Boys Basketball – Wall’s Storybook Season Ends vs. Moorestown
BRICK TWP. - Nick Cartwright-Atkins remembers walking off the court last season as a junior after losing to the eventual NJSIAA Group III champions and thinking his senior season would be the year his Moorestown boys basketball team finally broke through.
After losing to Moorestown in Thursday night's Group III semifinal game at Brick Memorial High School, Wall head coach Bob Klatt and his young team hope follow the same script next year.
Wall took a two-point lead into the second half but the more experienced Quakers overwhelmed the Crimson Knights in the second half on the way to a 64-44 win that clinches Moorestown a spot in a group final for the first time since 1960.
The Quakers will go for their first Group III championship since 1959 on Sunday at Rutgers University, where they will take on Ramapo. Wall, meanwhile, closes the book on a memorable season.
"It's my senior year and I couldn't ask for anything more," said Trey Dombroski, the lone senior starter on the team. "I love these guys. No one expected us to be here but we just grinded every day in practice and came together. It was awesome."
Moorestown's 2017-18 season ended with an overtime loss to Notthingham in the Central Jersey Group III championship game - two rounds short of the Group III final. Nottingham went on to reach the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions and with four key contributors from that game back this year, the Quakers came into the year on a mission to end a 60-year championship drought and assume the position of "Team to Beat" in Central and South Jersey.
"In practice, we have been saying it's our time," Cartwright-Atkins said. "(Wall) is a young team, a very young team, so they are going to dominate next year. Nottingham was a fluke (loss) for us. Somehow they got the ball in the basket and they wound up going far. Now, we're not letting any flukes happen. It's just our time."
Cartwright-Atkins led his team with a game-high 23 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. He scored 10 points in the first half to help keep his team afloat while absorbing Wall's best stretch of the game. He then helped spark the second-half onslaught with 13 points in the third and fourth quarters.
Senior Akhil Giri caught fire off the bench with 17 points behind 5-for-8 shooting from beyond the three-point arc. As a team, Moorestown shot 10-for-22 from three-point range, including 6-for-11 in the second half.
"They hit shots," Klatt said. "They attacked us on the inside and when he collapsed, (Giri) was sitting there waiting on the outside. That was the difference - they hit shots in the third quarter and we went cold."
Sophomore Pat Lacey led Wall with 15 points and six rebounds, including 13 points and five boards in the first half. After Moorestown jumped ahead, 14-8, after one quarter, Wall opened the second on a 14-2 run and held onto a 26-24 lead at the break.
During the first half, Wall bothered Moorestown with multiple zone looks, opening up the game with a box-and-one look in which junior Quinn Calabrese shadowed sharpshooter Jagger Zrada. Moorestown's second-leading scorer finished with only six points with a three-pointer in each half.
"We were getting what we want and they were missing shots," Klatt said of the first half. "We hope they were going to miss shots on the other end of the court. In the first half we got it but the second half was a different story."
Zrada hit his second three-pointer on Moorestown's first third-quarter possession and the Quakers never gave up the lead. They outscored Wall, 24-8, in the third to take a 48-34 lead into the fourth.
"We thought (Zrada) was going to be the guy and we shut him down in the first half," Klatt said. "I thought, 'Alright, we're good.' We knew (Giri) had 48 threes on the year coming in and he got five tonight, so that was the difference."
Freshman Colin Ackerman backed up Lacey with 14 points, 10 of which came in the second half. Moorestown limited Calabrese - Wall's leading scorer at an even 18 points per game - to five points on 2-for-14 shooting. He scored 27 points in Wall's sectional final win over Burlington Township.
Wall's banner season comes to an end after the Crimson Knights went from 14-13 a year ago and, despite losing 28-point-per-game scorer Steve Geis to graduation, improved to 21-9 this year while winning the Shore Conference Class B North championship for the first time in four years and the Central Jersey Group III title for the first time since 1973.
With four starters and the first two players off the bench returning for Wall next season, the Crimson Knights will have their sights set on advancing at least two more rounds.
"I told them these guys (Moorestown) are veterans and they were in the same position last year that we are now," Klatt said. "Hopefully this is us. We've got a lot of work to do to get back here. People didn't expect us to be here this year so next year, the bulls-eye is going to be bigger."