EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. - The mind-set was totally different for the Cherry Hill East boys' basketball team the second time around. So was the outcome.
A year ago, the Cougars won the first South Jersey Group 4 title in program history, and the players admitted that there was a feeling that their business was over after that game.
So when the Cougars played in the Group 4 state semifinal and lost 55-36 to Trenton, the players still felt a great sense of achievement, and rightly so.
High school sports can be a great teacher, and what the East players learned was that the season doesn't end after the South Jersey championships.
And for the Cougars, it hasn't concluded this year after the state semifinal.
Tim Perry, a 6-foot-8 junior, scored the Cougars' first eight points and Cherry Hill East assumed control from the beginning Wednesday during a 65-42 win over Hillsborough in the Group 4 state semifinal.
East will play in the state final against Paterson Eastside on Sunday at Rutgers. The time of the game is yet to be determined.
"Last year, we were complacent because we won the school's first sectional title," said Perry, who had 20 points and seven rebounds.
Penn recruit Jake Silpe, East's 6-3 senior point guard, continued his season-long brilliance. Silpe had 17 points, six assists, five steals, and five rebounds.
"If we would have lost this game, we would have been underachieving," Silpe said.
That's a little harsh, but it gives some insight to how serious East is.
And the Cougars (26-5) weren't lulled into a false sense of security by Hillsborough's resume. The Raiders were only the No. 13 seed in Central Jersey Group 4 and entered the tournament with an 11-12 record.
Yet they got on a roll and won the final by beating No. 2 seed Freehold Township.
"We took them very seriously because they got here for a reason," senior guard Josh Brown said.
When Hillsborough collapsed on Perry, it left things open. East's Pierce Elliot, Brown and Olin McClendon each hit at least one three-pointer. The Cougars adeptly spread the floor.
So the strategy employed by coach Dave Allen was excellent, but the Cougars' mental makeup was just as impressive, especially after East earned a 48-39 double-overtime win over Cherokee on Monday in the sectional final.
"I think last year's experience really helped us out," Brown said. "When we won the sectional this year, we were all really happy, but the next day in practice it was back to business."
Not surprisingly, Hillsborough came away thoroughly impressed with the Cougars, the same way Cherry Hill East was with Trenton last year.
"That is an excellent team and we didn't have a lot of margin for error," Hillsborough coach Ian Progin said. "And that No. 3 (Silpe), he's going to Penn for a reason."
Progin said he was proud of his 15-13 team and he should be. The Raiders overcame huge odds to win the Central Jersey championship.
And just maybe there was the same attitude that East had a year ago in winning the school's first sectional title.
This year the Cougars were all business, and as a result, the ride continues to Exit 9 of the New Jersey Turnpike and a coveted trip to Rutgers.
Cherry Hill East 12 15 22 15 - 65
Hillsborough 5 8 13 16 - 42
C: Pierce Elliot 8, Jake Silpe 17, Josh Brown 6, Tim Perry 20, Olin McClendon 9, Mike Zilberfarb 5.
H: Dylan Finer 3, Sam Wakai 12, Mike Decicco 3, Mike Reilly 3, Rob Askes 6, Joe Suseck 11, Steve Rudd 4.