Phil Anastasia: Cherry Hill East advances with 74-48 win over Cherry Hill West

Senior Marc Schlessel led the Cougars with 30 points. "When I'm out on the court, I'm not thinking, 'This could be it,' "he said.
Senior Marc Schlessel led the Cougars with 30 points. "When I'm out on the court, I'm not thinking, 'This could be it,' "he said.
Posted: February 29, 2012

Cherry Hill East boys' basketball coach Dave Allen doesn't need to look at the calendar to know the time of year.

He can just look in his seniors' eyes.

"They are so determined," Allen said. "Marc [Schlessel, senior guard] said it a couple weeks ago. He said he saw the end was coming."

Seniors don't need to walk around practices and in the locker room before games with a sign board that reads, "The End is Nigh."

They know it. They sense it. And so does everybody else associated with any program rich enough to feature athletes who have dedicated much of their teenage years to the cause.

Maybe that's why Schlessel was all over his home court on Tuesday, scoring 30 points as Cherry Hill East beat Cherry Hill West, 74-48, in the first round of the South Jersey Group 4 tournament.

And maybe that's why senior forward Jake Gurkin collected 18 points and 14 rebounds, and senior guard Jesse Gold was the tip of the spear of a great defensive effort that frustrated the upset-minded Lions into a harried, hurried offensive performance.

"Losing was not an option," said the 6-foot-6 Gurkin, who dominated the paint as the second-seeded Cougars advanced to face Toms River North in Thursday's quarterfinals.

Gurkin usually doesn't talk that way. But these are special times for the seniors on every team, the last chances to extend a career - to win and guarantee another practice, another game, another postponement of the inevitable.

"I'm just trying to savor every moment," Schlessel said. "I was talking with Coach a couple weeks ago and I said, 'That's it, six more games and then it's do or die.' And now it's here."

This game looked like a potential upset, given the rivalry between East and West, and the fact that East had lost four of its last seven and West had won six of nine.

West's white-clad students poured out of two buses and filled one section of the stands behind the Lions bench. Across the court, a few hundred red-clad Cherry Hill East students were jumping around in anticipation.

Allen, first-year coach at East who used to coach at West, didn't want the rivalry to factor into the game.

"We weren't even allowed to say 'West' in practice or we had to run," Gurkin said. "It was just another game."

Allen knew his seniors didn't need any extra motivation.

"I wanted to take the emotion out of it and just play our game," Allen said.

The coach also counted on his seniors to seize the moment. Schlessel and Gurkin are three-year starters, and Gold played major minutes last season.

These guys are program players. They are Cherry Hill kids with a deep connection to East basketball. They know the Cougars never have won a sectional title.

They also know this team in their senior season is a No. 2 seed with a legitimate chance to make a deep run. And maybe even to make history.

"That's obviously a goal," Gurkin said of a South Jersey title. "That would be awesome. But we know we have to just focus on one game at a time."

That's really what Schlessel was saying when he talked about "seeing the end" a couple of weeks ago. He was talking about squeezing the most out of every drill in practice, every moment in the locker room, every possession in every game.

"When I'm out on the court, I'm not thinking, 'This could be it,' " Schlessel said. "But it's there. You're always aware of it, and you just try to enjoy it and make the most of it."

Tipoff was 4 p.m., so it still was light outside when the Cougars walked out of the gym and into a springlike evening.

That was one way to tell the time of year.

But there are others.

Cherry Hill West 7 13 10 18 – 48

Cherry Hill East 21 9 17 27 – 74

CHW: Marquis Goodman 7, Rodney Williams 13, Greg Smolsky 2, Sean Mullarkey 3, Ryan Lee 9, Will Plenty 5, Mike Faust 8, Alex Injaian 1.

CHE: Marc Schlessel 30, Jake Gurkin 18, Jesse Gold 3, Hank Davis 14, Gary Hettinger 2, Jake Silpe 2, Brett Roseman 3, Austin Wetzler 2.


Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports

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