By BRIAN CUNNIFF
The Wildwood High School boys basketball team didn’t have the kind season it had planned.
But the Warriors sure are creating some late-season memories that will last a lifetime for their players.
After beating county rival Lower Cape May in its final regular-season game on Saturday, Wildwood went on the road and pulled off one of the bigger upsets around the state in the opening round of the playoffs. Wildwood, seeded 14th in the South Jersey Group I Tournament, stunned No. 3 Salem, 62-55, to advance to the second round.
“We’ve had some bumps in the road. We definitely didn’t get as many wins as we wanted,” Wildwood coach Scott McCracken said. “But the kids hung tough and we’ve won our last couple games on the road. I’m just thrilled for our seniors.”
Those seniors played a big part in the victory.
Tyler Tomlin’s three-pointer with a little more than 30 seconds to play broke a 55-55 tie and gave Wildwood the lead for good. Tomlin struggled from the floor, shooting just 5 for 18, but went 13 for 16 at the foul line and finished with a game-high 27 points.
“We’re really excited,” Tomlin said. “We prepared a lot for this game at practice. We knew we could go up there and do it. It’s a really great win.”
Wildwood had lost two regular-season games to Salem by double digits, falling at Salem by 93-68 and at home by 84-61.
“The first time we played them we turned the ball over 28 times and then the second time we only had 12 turnovers and we stayed in it for three quarters but then we fell apart,” McCracken said. “Tonight we didn’t fall apart. We put together four really good quarters.”
Senior Andrew Zielinski scored 10 points and provided the spark defensively for Wildwood by holding Salem star Jamael Bundy to seven points. Bundy had scored 41 points combined in the two earlier games against Wildwood.
“Andrew Zielinski really took their best player out of the game,” McCracken said. “We talked as coaches and thought that was the move to make, to put Andrew on that kid. He just denied him the ball as much as possible and made it hard on him. That was huge. It was a big difference for us.”
Junior Max McGrath added 13 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Wildwood (11-16).
“I think this win shows we’re resilient,” Tomlin said. “Even though we lost to them twice, we knew we could go up there and play with them.”
Gage Ausland had 19 points to lead Salem (18-8).
Wildwood, which as won four straight, will play at 11th-seeded Pitman in the second round Thursday. Pitman upset No. 6 Woodstown, 54-51, on Tuesday.
“It feels really good to be able to go to practice tomorrow and prepare to play Thursday,” Tomlin said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Wildwood split with Pitman during the regular season, losing 60-57 on the road in late December and winning 72-69 at home on Jan. 24.