Phil Anastasia: A Tuesday for the ages in South Jersey hoops

Glum Bishop Eustace fans watch as Paul VI fans - many wearing T-shirts with "VI Man" on the back - celebrate after their No. 3 Eagles knocked off the No. 2 Crusaders on a late shot.
Glum Bishop Eustace fans watch as Paul VI fans - many wearing T-shirts with "VI Man" on the back - celebrate after their No. 3 Eagles knocked off the No. 2 Crusaders on a late shot. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 19, 2012

Sometimes, people ask me why I love to cover high school sports so much.

Tuesday, I say.

Not just any Tuesday.

Super Tuesday - Jan. 17.

In the span of five hours, I saw two games involving the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 teams in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings - plus another team that was as high as No. 4 recently and looks as if it's coming back with a bullet - decided by last-second shots.

Both shots brought students streaming on the court in celebration.

Both endings left the seniors who had made the shots overwhelmed with emotion.

I love the way the 76ers are playing - all that energy and enthusiasm - but you can watch an entire NBA regular season and not see the passion that poured out on those high school courts Tuesday.

It's the nature of it. Those guys are professionals. They play all those games. They can't care as much as these kids.

On Tuesday afternoon, Cherry Hill East stunned No. 1 Eastern, 60-58, in overtime.

The Cougars controlled the game for 25 minutes, but Eastern battled back and forced overtime. The Vikings even had possession in a 58-58 game.

Eastern got a clean look from the right corner, but the shot kicked off the rim.

Cherry Hill East's reaction was swift, stunning, and smashingly successful. Jake Gurkin grabbed the rebound and threw an outlet to Jesse Gold, who fired downcourt to Marc Schlessel for the game-winning layup as the buzzer sounded.

All in 4.5 seconds.

Schlessel's layup launched a wild celebration as around 100 red-clad Cherry Hill East fans stormed the court.

It says something about Cherry Hill East as a program and the kids on the team that those students made the trip to Eastern, chanted throughout the game, and created a great atmosphere. Eastern had a good crowd, too, with a vocal student section of its own.

Student sections were chanting at each other big-time in Tuesday's nightcap. It was a capacity-plus crowd for No. 2 Bishop Eustace at No. 3 Paul VI.

Paul VI's student section was a couple of hundred strong - all in white T-shirts with "VI Man" on the back. Bishop Eustace brought a legion of fans, too.

It was a strange but great game. Paul VI controlled play behind seniors Ron Curry and Kris O'Connor for 20 minutes, building a 45-26 lead with a trapping, full-court defense.

Bishop Eustace roared back behind seniors Carson Puriefoy and Sho DaSilva.

It was 60-60 as Paul VI held for the last shot, with Curry controlling the ball near half-court with Puriefoy on defense.

That was just perfect - the two best point guards (maybe the two best players, period) in South Jersey squaring off with the game on the line and close to 1,000 people on the edge of their seats.

Curry drove to the right elbow and hit an off-balance shot from around 12 feet with 0:03 on the clock.

Another dramatic game-winner, another student section pouring on the court in celebration, another senior shaking his head in wonder as the moment registered a few minutes later in the locker room.

Bishop Eustace and Paul VI will meet again.

So will Cherry Hill East and Eastern.

They will have a tough time topping Super Tuesday.

But the wonderful thing about high school sports is that they will care enough to try.

Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223,, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at

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