March was the coolest month in South Jersey sports in 2014.
Ten days in March showcased some of the most unforgettable moments of the year: A madcap race in a car that led to the unbridled joy of a state champion in wrestling; a harmonic convergence of sectional basketball championships for a forever-linked program and coach; and the surreal ending of a Tournament of Champions game.
It's impossible to look back at 2014 in South Jersey scholastic sports and not focus on the pure happiness on Camden heavyweight Andrew Stevens' face after he became the city's first wrestling state champion in the 81-year history of the state tournament.
Or reflect on the wild ride from Ventnor to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City that Stevens and coach Sandy Thame took on the night of the semifinals - arriving literally moments before disqualification.
The same goes for the uncanny coincidence that saw Cherry Hill East win the first South Jersey boys' basketball title in the history of the program two hours before John Valore - a coach who was synonymous with Cougars' basketball for more than 30 years - won the first South Jersey title of his career as the first-year coach at Camden.
And for sheer strangeness, nothing in 2014 could top the circumstances of Pitman's loss to Linden in the quarterfinals of the Tournament of Champions in boys' basketball, as the Panthers were hit with a technical foul for having six players on the court with two seconds remaining in a tie game.
"We pulled a Chris Webber," Pitman coach Kevin Crawford said that night, referring to the former Michigan player's infamous timeout call.
Here's a chronological look at some of the more memorable moments of 2014:
March 1: Legendary Brooklawn American Legion baseball founder and manager Joe Barth died at the age of 92.
Barth created perhaps the most successful independent sports program in South Jersey in 1952. Broooklawn has won 28 state titles, 16 regional titles and four World Series titles - the last in August as the players took the field with uniform patches that read "Pop" in honor of Barth.
March 9: "I would have had to move to South America and start speaking Spanish," Thame said, speculating on his options if Stevens had been disqualified from the state tournament.
On the night of March 8, Stevens and Thame were resting at the Ventnor house of a Camden assistant coach's relatives. They thought the semifinals were at 7 p.m.
One problem: the semifinals were at 5 p.m.
Alerted, they frantically raced faster than any jitney to the arena.
"I would have driven up on the boardwalk if I thought the car could have made it up the ramp," Thame said.
Stevens arrived just as the mat-side clock was counting down to his disqualification. He won his semifinal, then took care of business Sunday to finish a 37-0 season.
"I was like, 'That's it? It's over? I won?'" Stevens said of describing his joyous disbelief at winning the state title.
March 11: In the afternoon, Cherry Hill East won the first South Jersey title in the 45-year history of the program with a victory over Cherokee in the Group 4 sectional title game.
That night, Valore won the first sectional title of his 37-year coaching career - including 35 seasons at Cherry Hill East - as Camden beat Pemberton in the Group 2 title game.
It was a special day for Valore and Cherry Hill East coach Dave Allen, who played and coached under Valore and regards him as a father figure.
"I couldn't be happier for one of the finest men I know," Allen said.
March 20: Pitman, the Group 1 champion, rallied from a 13-point deficit against heavily favored Group 4 champion Linden in the T of C game at Toms River North.
Seniors Darnell Foreman and Eric Stafford and junior Tim Delaney led the way as the Panthers tied the game at 60-60 with 0:10 to play.
Then things got really weird.
Linden inbounded the ball and pushed the basketball into the frontcourt, even as the team's coaches and fans were screaming that Pitman had six players on the court.
The referees stopped the game at 0:02 and called Pitman for a technical foul. Linden hit two free throws, maintained possession and hit two more for a 64-60 victory.
"It was a fluke," said Crawford, now the head coach at Eastern. "I take full responsibility."
June 5: The Los Angeles Angels struck gold the last time they reached into South Jersey for a high draft pick, selecting Millville's Mike Trout in the first round in 2009.
They did it again this year, taking St. Augustine pitcher Joey Gatto with the 53d overall pick in the first-year player draft.
Trout, widely regarded as the best player in baseball, tweeted congratulations to Gatto soon after the selection, telling him "represent S.J. [South Jersey]."
Said Gatto the next day: "It's unbelievable that he did that."
June 7: Buena became the first Cape-Atlantic League public-school team to win a state title in baseball with a 4-1 win over Bernards behind the four-hit pitching of junior Denny Brady at Toms River East.
Three hours later, Mainland became the second with a 5-3 win over Mt. Olive, as sophomore Kyle Gerace pitched four strong innings of relief at Toms River South.
June 7: Senior Marie McCool capped one of the great careers in South Jersey girls' lacrosse history with four straight goals in the second half to rally Moorestown to an 8-5 victory over Summit in the Tournament of Champions title game.
Comebacks were the calling card of these Quakers, as they rallied for their last three tournament wins, over Mendham, Lenape and Summit.
McCool finished her career with 272 goals. Moorestown ended the season with a 26-0 record and a 77-game winning streak.
Sept. 11: It was a poignant scene at Mainland as the girls' soccer team played its season opener one day after the funeral of freshman Aisling Cooke, who died of injuries suffered in a car accident that injured four other athletes on the team.
In an unforgettable moment, Mainland football coach Bob Coffey led his team across the practice field and had his players form a fully-padded phalanx through which the girls' soccer players ran in returning to their sideline after the captains' meeting at midfield.
Coffey had guided his team through unfathomable tragedy three years earlier when four Mainland football players were killed in an automobile accident.
Mainland started the game a "man down" - leaving an open spot in Cooke's midfield position.
"Aisling is starting for us today," Mainland coach Chris Connolly said.
Nov. 13: It was reflected glory for South Jersey sports but it meant a lot to the baseball community when Trout, a 2009 Millville graduate, was the unanimous choice as the American League's Most Valuable Player.
In his third major-league season, Trout batted .287 with 36 home runs and led the league with 111 RBIs and the majors with 115 runs. He also led the majors with 84 extra-base hits.
Nov. 21: The final buzzer marked more than the end of another Tournament of Champions and another perfect season for the Eastern field hockey team.
It also marked the end of one of the greatest individual careers in South Jersey team sports.
Eastern senior Austyn Cuneo finished her career with 328 goals, a national record by a mile. The old mark was 191.
Cuneo never lost a game in high school. Her teams were 105-0-1, with four state titles and three Tournament of Champions titles (the event was canceled in 2012 because of Superstorm Sandy).
"There will never be another one like her," Eastern coach Danyle Heilig said of Cuneo.
Nov. 23: Washington Township capped one of the better two-year runs in South Jersey boys' soccer history with a 1-0 win over Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the Group 4 state title game at Kean University.
The Minutemen were 51-2 in the last two seasons, with a pair of South Jersey Soccer Coaches Association tournament titles.
But the culmination was the victory in the state title game, thanks to an early goal by Zach Burns.
Dec. 1: Dajuan Wagner used to jump into the layup line with the Camden High varsity as a second-grader.
He is widely regarded as the best player in New Jersey history. He scored a state-record 3,462 points for Camden in a career that ended in 2001.
On the first day of practice for this season, the bond between South Jersey's best player and its most fabled program was made a little tighter as Camden unveiled Dajuan Wagner Court.
The court was painted to honor Wagner, who attended a brief ceremony before the start of practice.
"Whatever you heard about how good he was," Camden athletic director Mark Phillips told the current players, "he was better than that."
Dec. 6-7: It was all about repeat championships in South Jersey football.
St. Joseph won its sixth consecutive Non-Public state title, while Delsea won its third consecutive South Jersey Group 3 title.
Cherokee (Group 5), Shawnee (Group 4) and Haddonfield (Group 2) also repeated as South Jersey champions.
"Some kids never get to experience one of these," St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco said. "For our seniors to have been part of four, they have to realize how fortunate they are."