In the closing minutes of the final game of the Haddon Heights Summer League season, the last of three championship games inside a nearly full George A. Maier Jr. Memorial Gym, rising Timber Creek High School junior Austin Green corralled a loose ball near midcourt.
While a Haddon Heights player gave chase – and managed to beat Green to the basket, too – Green had the advantage. The athletic, 6-foot-5 forward went airborne and, on this night, there wasn’t anyone who could play on his level above the rim.
When Green’s feet finally hit the ground, the dozen or so Chargers fans behind the basket bounced off the bleachers in celebration. It was an emphatic dunk and also an exclamation point on an exciting win.
“I’ve never ‘postered’ somebody before, that was just my second dunk in a game,” Green said after the final buzzer. “We play hard and we play together, that’s the main thing. We didn’t force shots and we played hard.”
Timber Creek was one of two varsity-level champions on the night, beating host Haddon Heights 55-50 to collect the Monday-Wednesday division Summer League title. Washington Township preceded the Chargers on the court on July 29 with a 58-41 win over Glassboro for the Tuesday-Thursday crown.
The monthlong league includes 28 varsity and 14 junior varsity high school teams from Camden, Burlington, Gloucester and Salem counties.
“Our goal was to get to this game,” Timber Creek coach Rich Bolds said. “Obviously during the regular season we get close but not (quite) there. We just wanted to get these guys game experience. This summer we had a lot of guys that aren’t here, but the ones that are coming out at 6:30 to work out every morning, they’re producing. Like Austin, he couldn’t get in the rotation (last season) but now in the summer he’s playing his behind off and that’s a testament to what you can do.”
Timber Creek was able to set the tone against Haddon Heights and fight off a late second-half comeback thanks to its team depth. The Chargers had a healthy mix of experienced guards and forwards chipping in throughout the game, a good sign for the upcoming 2019-20 season.
“I think we’re going to be champions,” Green said of a Chargers team that went 16-11 (7-0 in Olympic Conference, Patriot Division play) last season. “Our team is better this year than we were last year and we lost in the third round (to eventual state champion Moorestown). I feel like we can definitely be champions.”
While Timber Creek’s veteran roster used the summer in an effort to take the first step toward making history together this winter, Washington Township is hoping its own Summer League title will lay the foundation toward its program turning a corner.
The Minutemen went 9-18 during the 2018-19 season and won just one division game. But they showed off a tenacious, athletic style in their win over Glassboro, finding success both behind the arc and in attacking the rim.
“We all had a role and we all executed it perfectly,” said Richard Santos.
“We hustled every game,” added fellow rising senior Chase King of the high points of the summer season. “In close games I felt like we played well under pressure. … We’ve become more of a unit. And by working on plays, we can get it done in the regular season when it really matters.”
Washington Township’s players were probably eager for some rest following their championship win. The Minutemen came into the night fresh off playing for three consecutive days at a weekend camp at Albright College in Reading, Pa.
“I thought we’d be exhausted and not have much tonight, (but) our guys play hard, whenever they’re on the court they go after it,” said Washington Township coach Matt Kiser. “It’s a Summer League championship but it’s a building block for what we want to accomplish. These guys have been consistent, we’ve hardly had any guys miss practices and we share with football, and soccer. They find the time. I’d be exhausted, but they go all day. It was a good summer.”
Timber Creek’s coach concurred.
“It’s the summer, you work on things to get better,” Bold said. “We did that and I think their confidence has raised a little bit. We’ll see how they progress from now until the fall and then go from fall into the winter. But right now, it’s a good feeling for them.”