Olin McClendon never expected to be in this position. When his Cherry Hill East teammate Jake Silpe fired a three-pointer to win the game, the ball hit nothing but backboard.
McClendon, a 6-foot junior, was there to grab the rebound and lay it in, forcing overtime. After neither team scored in the first extra period, the Cougars took over. With Silpe providing another vintage performance, East defeated Cherokee, 48-39, in double overtime Monday in a wild South Jersey Group 4 final.
It was the second consecutive sectional title for East, which also beat Cherokee in last year's championship game. The two teams also tied this season for the Olympic Conference American Division title along with Lenape.
"Olin McClendon saved our season," East coach Dave Allen said.
McClendon had the same reaction as most in the packed Cherry Hill East gymnasium when Silpe shot. "When Jake puts it up, you think it's going in," McClendon said.
This time it didn't, but McClendon was lucky it didn't hit the rim. The ball came to him and he did the rest with just 1.4 seconds left in regulation.
"I have never hit such a big shot," McClendon said. "It is such a great feeling."
Nobody felt better than Silpe.
"He bailed me out," Silpe said. "When I released the shot I knew it was short but he was right there and made a great play."
East (25-5) advanced to the state Group 4 semifinal Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Egg Harbor Township against Hillsborough.
The Cougars were tested by a 19-10 Cherokee team that trailed by as many as 14 points early in the second half.
"We played with such toughness and I am so proud of them," said Cherokee coach Matt Shultz.
The Chiefs, who received 18 points from Paul Bellamy, had to deal with Silpe, the 6-foot-3 Penn-bound senior who had 23 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.
After neither team scored in the first overtime, Silpe's driving layup gave the Cougars the lead for good.
Yet despite all his baskets, it was his miss at the end of regulation that turned into the game's biggest play.
Cherokee 4 10 10 15 0 0 - 39
Cherry Hill East 9 17 5 8 0 9 - 48
Cherokee: Tyler Tobin 4, Paul Bellamy 18 Luke Gibson 2, Steve Gervasi 6, Marcus Marshall 2, Grant Gibson 7.
CH East: Pierce Elliot 5, Jake Silpe 23, Josh Brown 6, Tim Perry 7, Olin McClendon 7.