"One day, the kids told me, 'Hey there's a new kid and he's pretty good,' " Burlington Township coach Scott Kupersmit said after his team's 53-49 victory over Kingsway on Thursday night in the Group 3 state semifinals at Winslow Township. "They always say that, so you never know. But this time they were right."
Rodriguez was the difference for the Falcons in the game that propelled the program to the state finals for the first time since 1992.
Burlington Township, the Central Jersey champion, had plenty of heroes in an intense game played before a huge crowd.
Senior forward Avery Holliday battled foul trouble and still scored 10. Junior forward Demetrius Tilley bounced off the bench and scored nine. Junior guard David Coulanges made just one basket, but it was the night's biggest, a runner in the lane for a 52-48 lead with 48 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
But it was Rodriguez who created matchup problems for Kingsway, one of South Jersey's better defensive teams. He was too quick for the Dragons' bigger players, and too strong for smaller forwards.
"I'm mostly a shooter," Rodriguez said. "But when I feel like there's a mismatch, I'll try to take advantage of that."
Rodriguez has a great feel for the game. He said he played in Pennsauken's program as a freshman and sophomore, then spent last year at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania. He moved with his family to Burlington Township before this school year.
"I had no idea something like this was going to be possible," Rodriguez said of playing in the state championship game. "All season long, I never even thought about it. Then when the playoffs started, that's all I thought about."
Rodriguez led all players with 18 points. He scored on a couple of drives, and muscled inside for a couple of hoops off offensive rebounds.
But it was his outside shooting that enabled the Falcons to maintain the advantage after bursting to a 10-0 lead. Rodriguez made four jumpers from three-point range, including three in the second half.
"Danny is an outstanding offensive player, and he's such a team guy," Kupersmit said.
Rodriguez said he always wanted to get those wing tattoos. He finally got them on his birthday, Feb. 27.
"They hurt at first, but now I don't feel a thing," Rodriguez said.
That's because the transfer who fell out of the sky and his teammates are walking on air all the way to the state championship game.
Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223