By BRIAN CUNNIFF
Tyler Tomlin stood on the free-throw line with a chance to secure the Wildwood High School boys basketball program’s biggest victory in decades.
He calmly knocked down both shots.
Tomlin’s free throws with 2.5 seconds remaining sealed a 57-53 victory over Glassboro Saturday, sending the Cinderella Warriors to the South Jersey Group I title game for the first time in at least 30 years.
As a No. 14 seed.
“It was a lot of joy,” Tomlin said of his thoughts when his second foul shot fell through the net, “but it was also a lot of relief.”
When Wildwood beat No. 3 Salem, 62-55, on the road in the opening round of the tournament, those who chronicle such things called it one of the biggest playoff upsets around the state.
The Warriors then got past No. 11 Pitman, 49-46, to move into the semifinal game against No. 2 Glassboro. It was there that quite a few people thought this neat little story about how the smallest regular public school in the state caught lightning in a bottle and won a couple of state playoff games would end.
Wildwood, though, did not.
“I woke up today and I really thought we could win,” Wildwood coach Scott McCracken said. “I really believed it. For some reason I thought these kids could hang in and keep their composure. Then they went and did it and we won.”
And scored an upset that certainly trumps the previous two.
Wildwood (13-16) led almost from start to finish. The Warriors held a 30-20 lead at the half. Glassboro (23-4) charged after halftime and eventually took its only lead of the second half at 51-50 with a little more than two minutes left. But senior Will Long scored a layup on Wildwood’s next possession and the Warriors hung on for the victory.
“I really have no words for this,” Long said. “It’s just crazy to pull this off again. We played team basketball. We played really well together.”
Wildwood shot extremely well from the floor, making 18 of 36 shots overall and 7 of 13 from three-point range.
Tomlin finished with 25 points, making 6 of 10 from the floor and 10 of 13 from the line. None of those free throws was bigger than the final two.
“The first thing I thought was, We made it,” McCracken said. “I was thinking, Why not Wildwood? Why not Wildwood? That’s what was going through my mind.
“It was such an intense game from the opening tip to the horn. When Tyler stepped up and made the second one, it was just incredible. That was the most intense game I’ve ever coached in and I’m sure it was the most intense game the kids have ever played in.”
Junior Max McGrath added 13 points and five rebounds and Long chipped in 12 points and five rebounds. Tomlin also dished seven assists.
“The seniors really stepped up, as they’ve done these whole playoffs,” McCracken said. “Tyler, Will, Andrew Zielinski and Max, too. The kids have bought in and really done a great job. We’re thin on the bench but our kids have stepped up. They’ve stayed composed. My assistant coaches have come up with good game plans and the kids have gone out and executed.”
Wildwood will play at No. 4 Haddon Township or No. 8 Clayton on Tuesday at a time to be announced for the South Jersey title. Wildwood has not won a sectional championship since 1979. Haddon Township and Clayton were scheduled to play Saturday evening.
“It’s exciting,” Tomlin said. “We’re a really confident group. We think we can go out and do it. The whole school is behind us and the whole community is behind us. It’ll be a lot of fun.”
Added McCracken: “It’s a great feeling. I couldn’t be more fired up. I’m happy for our kids, happy for our coaches, happy for the school and happy for our town.”