TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- Jagger Zrada didn’t really make shots from the trainer’s room.
He just came out of the trainer’s room to make shots.
The Moorestown senior guard was burying three-pointers from distance through the first half and first few minutes of the third quarter of Wednesday night’s Tournament of Champions quarterfinal against Haddonfield.
“It was one of those days when I was getting open and shots were falling,” Zrada said with a verbal shrug, offering plain description of the most remarkable game of his career.
It was left to others to better characterize Zrada’s heroics in Moorestown’s 60-59 victory in a pulse-pounding clash of South Jersey’s two state champions at the RWJ Barnabas Arena on the campus of Toms River North High School.
“That’s it -- ‘Jagger,’” Moorestown coach Shawn Anstey said. “I can’t say enough about that kid. He’s a warrior.”
Haddonfield coach Paul Wiedeman called Zrada’s return from injury a “Willis Reed moment,” referring to one of the NBA’s most iconic scenes, the New York Knicks’ center emerging from the tunnel at Madison Square Garden with a knee injury to inspire his team to the 1970 NBA championship.
Zrada shot 7-for-8 from three-point range and finished with 23 points and senior Nick Cartwright-Atkins added 13 points with nine rebounds and three steals for Moorestown (28-5), the Group 3 state champion.
Senior guard Akhil Giri added nine points, making a pair of three-pointers for fifth-seeded Moorestown, which advanced to face top-seeded Ranney School (28-3) in Friday night’s semifinals.
Ranney School is No. 1 in the state in nj.com’s rankings and No. 10 in the nation in MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25 rankings.
“We’re underdogs -- we like that,” Cartwright-Atkins said.
Senior Dan Fleming scored 25 points and senior Mike DePersia added 13 points, including a half-court shot as time expired, for fourth-seeded Haddonfield (31-2).
The loss ended the sensational careers of Haddonfield’s seniors, including forwards Aidan Blake and Dylan Heine and guards Drew Gavranich and Lewis Evans.
“I don’t think people are going to realize how good they until they’re gone,” Wiedeman said of his senior class, which powered the program to back-to-back Group 2 state titles and a two-year record of 60-6. “It’s hard when the finality of it hits.”
Wiedeman thought Moorestown’s ”energy level,” best exemplified by the irrepressible Cartwright-Akins, was the difference in the game.
“That kid Cartwright-Atkins, he got every tip, every deflection under the basket,” Wiedeman said. “He set the tone for the game.”
The 5-foot-8 Zrada, who has waged point-guard battles with DePersia since travel-team games in fourth grade, made a pair of three-pointers in the first half, which ended with the score knotted at 30.
Zrada opened the third quarter with three consecutive three-pointers from increasing distance. He tried a step-back jumper and landed awkwardly, turning his left ankle and needing assistance to the trainer’s room with 2 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
“The initial pain was really bad,” Zrada said. “But my trainer said it was fine and I felt fine. My adrenaline was still pumping and when I got out there I wasn’t even thinking about it.”
Zrada returned to the game with 7:01 remaining in the fourth quarter. He hit two more three-pointers, the second giving Moorestown a 54-48 lead with 4:35 left.
“I was saying, ‘Hey, there could be eight minutes left in my season, so I’ve got to suck it up,’” Zrada said.
The Quakers were able to seal the deal with sturdy defense and solid work from the free-throw line, with Giri going 3-for-4 in the final four minutes.
“We’ve believed in ourselves all year long,” Giri said. “We didn’t care that [the Bulldawgs] were 31-1. We knew if we made our shots and played together that we could win this game.”
Standing outside the locker room, Zrada appeared unfazed by his own heroics, or by the challenge awaiting the Quakers when they return to the arena on Friday night.
“To advance and play the No. 1 team in the state, it’s going to be a cool experience, I think,” Zrada said.
Moorestown 16 14 16 14 – 60
Haddonfield 11 19 10 19 – 59
M: Jagger Zrada 23, Nick Cartwright-Atkins 13, Vinnie Caprarola 2, Evan Francisco 7, Kevin Muhic 2, Brian McMonagle 1, Akhil Giri 9, Tommy Londres 3.