Rich Bolds paced up and down the Timber Creek sideline, constantly looking up at the scoreboard in the near corner.
With his team’s once-20-point-lead now down to a half-dozen, the seconds couldn’t melt away fast enough.
Bolds was certainly nervous.
Chargers senior Demetrius Paynter? Not so much.
“We’ve been here before,” Paynter said of pressure-packed postseason games. “[With] our senior leadership, we know what to do.”
So, it was only fitting that the 6-foot-6 senior pulled down the penultimate rebound and drilled a pair of free throws to ice Timber Creek’s 66-59 win against Cherry Hill West on Monday night in the South Jersey Group 3 title game. Paynter and classmate Eric Benjamin each scored 16 points to pace the Chargers as they claimed Timber Creek’s first sectional title since 2008.
For Bolds, it was special to watch his team celebrate on its own floor, but made even sweeter by the fact that his teams had come up short three previous times in this very game.
“Somebody said, ‘When you win it, you’ll win it,’” Bolds said. “All those times before, it was a precursor for our development to be able to finish it off right here.”
The Chargers took control of the game early, erupting for a 20-2 run in the final six minutes of the opening quarter after initially trailing 5-2. At one point, Benjamin, Justin Bladen, and Jalen Bergen canned back-to-back-to-back triples, giving the hosts a boatload of momentum.
By the middle of the third quarter, Timber Creek had stretched its lead to as many as 20 points.
“We were a little hyped coming out,” Benjamin said. “But we hit those first three shots and it really calmed us down.”
Bolds told his team at halftime that Cherry Hill West wasn’t going away, though, and his prediction ultimately came true. As the Chargers tried to sit on the ball and burn the final minutes away, the Lions kept on chipping at the deficit.
Hakim Melvin, the game’s leading scorer with 23 points, nailed his last four shots of the fourth quarter — all three-pointers — pulling West within single digits for the first time since midway through the opening quarter.
Despite a significant size advantage, Timber Creek chose not to force the ball inside to Paynter. Even with the big man dominating the glass to the tune of a game-high 16 rebounds, the Chargers kept passing the ball around on the outside.
And the Lions’ aggressive defense pounced, forcing nine turnovers during the second half to get as close as three in the final minute.
"We knew they were going to press,” Bolds said. “You saw what [West] did at Moorestown, so we couldn’t take them lightly. I told the guys that they had to stay focused and keep working.”
That focused showed at the charity stripe. Timber Creek went 8-for-10 from the line in the fourth quarter, closing out the win and sending a large Chargers student section storming onto the hardwood.
“From the start of the season, we wanted the No. 1 seed to play every playoff game here,” Paynter said. “Even though we got the No. 2 seed, to be able to [finish it off] here means everything.”
Cherry Hill West 7 11 25 16 - 59
Timber Creek 22 10 22 12 - 66
CH: Melvin 23, Smith 18, Flynn 6, Lipford 6, Ross 3, Shakur 3