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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Blue Devils ousted from Group 3 playoffs

THG/Dan Russoman. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940. Hammonton’s Kenny Smith (5) drives to the basket as Cherry Hill West’s Quinn Gibson (5) and Ben Manns (23) defend during last week’s South Jersey Group 3 playoff game.

MOORESTOWN—It’s best season in a decade came to an abrupt end for Hammonton High School’s boys basketball team last week, as the Blue Devils were knocked out of the South Jersey Group 3 playoffs with a 52-40 quarterfinal loss to Moorestown.

The game was tight for three quarters before a big four-point play gave Moorestown some breathing room late in the third quarter and sparked a 22-13 fourth-quarter run that gave the Quakers the win.

Both teams struggled to score in the first half, with Moorestown taking a 21-19 lead into the break.

Hammonton trailed 26-23 with 2:43 left in the third quarter when Moorestown’s David Gheysens launched a 3-point shot over a pair of Blue Devils defenders. The shot was on the mark, and Gheysens was fouled on the play. He sank a free throw to complete a four-point play and put Moorestown up 30-23.

The Quakers were able to keep Hammonton’s top scorer, Kenny Smith, from penetrating to the basket. The sophomore guard finished with a game-high 23 points, but 15 of those came from the foul line.

“They [Moorestown] really did a good job guarding Kenny and we didn’t make shots,” Hammonton assistant coach Christian Mortellite said.

Having gained some momentum, Moorestown, led by Gheysens, was able to manufacture some points from the perimeter to close out the win.

The loss dropped Hammonton to 18-9, the Blue Devils best record since finishing the 2012-13 season at 21-7.

“We’re disappointed because we thought we were the better team, but I think we had a great season. We won 18 games with a young group of guys who have a really bright future,” Mortellite said.

Hammonton reached the quarterfinals after defeating Cherry Hill West 56-42 in their postseason opener.

Like the Moorestown game two nights later, this one was close for a half, as Smith scored 11 first quarter points to help Hammonton grab a 20-16 lead before Azzir Smith-Bey’s 3-pointer and two more Smith buckets gave the Blue Devils a 29-24 halftime advantage.

Hammonton broke the game open in the third quarter, outscoring Cherry Hill West 17-5 behind a pair of 3-pointers from Smith-Bey and five more points from Smith.

Smith capped a 28-point night with six points in the fourth quarter, and Smith-Bey added four to finish the game with 19.

“Azzir [Smith-Bey] stepped up tonight and Kenny [Smith] was Kenny. When he’s on, we’re tough to beat. He was able to do his thing tonight and it gave Cherry Hill West a lot of problems,” Mortellite said.

Looking ahead to next season, Hammonton is confident it can build on the success of this winter.

“We’re only going to get better. We had a young team this year, and we bring back most of the team with a year of experience and kids that know how to win. I’m excited,” Mortellite said.


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