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Middle Township wins in overtime to advance to South Jersey final (VIA Press of AC)

Mar 1, 2024


VIA Press of Atlantic City: https://pressofatlanticcity.com/sports/high-school/basketball/boys/middle-township-wins-in-overtime-to-advance-to-south-jersey-final/article_403cb1c8-d6b0-11ee-abf7-6ff5d036b2e8.html

Basketball in the middle of basketball court

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Coach LaMarr Greer of the Middle Township High School boys basketball team has begged reserve junior guard Amir Elston to shoot.

Greer hasn’t stopped there.

The coach has begged Elston’s uncle to tell his nephew to shoot.

Greer has begged Elston’s mother to tell her son to shoot.

Greer has even lobbied Elston’s grandmother to tell her grandson to shoot.

“I’ve called everybody in his family,” Greer said with a laugh. “Sometimes you have to give a kid confidence.”

On Wednesday, Elston couldn’t have picked a better time to shoot with confidence.

His 3-pointer from the left corner propelled the top-seeded Panthers to a stirring 46-38 overtime win over fourth-seeded Haddonfield in a South Jersey Group II semifinal Wednesday night. Middle Township will host Camden for the South Jersey title Friday.

Elston’s shot put Middle up 42-38 with 1 minute, 14 seconds left in the game.

It came off a pass from senior forward Mike Zarfati, who caught the ball in the middle of the Haddonfield zone, looked opposite and found Elston open in the corner.

“I had to make a big shot,” Elston said. “I had to come up big for my coaches and teammates. They trusted me, and I had to come up big for them.”

Fans jammed into Middle’s gym to watch these traditional powers meet. The gym was so loud that coaches on both teams had to shout their instructions to their players and even then it was hard to hear.

The game was a reminder of why the state basketball tournament is the best two weeks of the high school sports season. Neither team led by more than four points in the third and fourth quarters.

Senior guard Anthony Trombetta led Middle with 21. Panthers junior point guard Jamir McNeil scored six of his 15 in overtime. Sam Narducci sparked Haddonfield with 17.

“There was great energy,” Trombetta said. “That’s Middle Township culture. We work all year just to be in moments like that and have fun.”

Trombetta scored 15 of his points in the first half. In a game where baskets were tough to come by, his two first-half 3-pointers made life easier for Middle against Haddonfield’s zone defense.

“My thing was if I get any space, I’m going to shoot it,” Trombetta said.

Middle never trailed in overtime. McNeil’s driving layup put the Panthers up 39-36.

Elston entered Wednesday’s game 50 of 103 from 3-point range. But he had made more than one shot from beyond the arc in just one of the past seven games. On Wednesday, Elston also made a 3-pointer in the second quarter and finished the game with six points.

“It’s amazing, but we’re not shocked,” Greer said of Elston’s overtime 3-pointer. “We see him work in practice. We’re mad when he doesn’t shoot an open shot.”

After Elston’s 3-pointer, Trombetta and McNeil combined to sink 4 of 6 free throws in the final 50 seconds to clinch the win. Middle also used a box-and-one defense against Narducci in overtime to throw Haddonfield off. The Bulldogs (27-3) did not have a field goal in overtime.

“We always keep something in our back pocket,” Greer said.

The Middle/Camden matchup is one of the season’s most anticipated games.

Middle Township (28-2) is the defending South Jersey Group II champion. But Camden did not participate in last year’s tournament. The Camden School District pulled Camden from the state tournament after the team was involved in a melee with Camden Eastside in the Camden County Tournament final.

Camden (27-2) has won 16 straight and beat Cinnaminson 67-31 in Wednesday’s other semifinal.

“We’re looking forward to (Friday),” Greer said. “We’ve been looking forward to this game for two years. We want to play the best. We want to see how good we are. They’re good. We’re good. Let’s get it on.”

Haddonfield 10 8 11 7 2 – 38

Middle Township 7 15 6 8 10 – 46

HAD – Rohlfing 7, Morris 12, Narducci 17, Ryan 2 Roddy 0

MT – J. McNeil 15, Trombetta 21, Zarfati 0, B. McNeil 4, Basquine 0, Elston 6

For photos go to: https://pressofatlanticcity.com/sports/high-school/basketball/boys/middle-township-wins-in-overtime-to-advance-to-south-jersey-final/article_403cb1c8-d6b0-11ee-abf7-6ff5d036b2e8.html

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