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Experience propels Burlington City to sixth consecutive win and South Jersey Group 1 semifinals

BURLINGTON CITY (N.J.) - The Burlington City High School boys basketball team has a reputation for playing its finest brand of basketball in February and March.

Coach Bryan Warrick guided the program to a state title in 2002.

Warrick returned to the helm last season after the retirement of legendary coach Paul Collins. The result was 22 wins and a Group 1 state final appearance at Rutgers University.

It's no coincidence the Blue Devils are surging again at the right time.

Burlington City extended its winning streak to six games with a 65-57 triumph over Salem in the South Jersey Group 1 quarterfinals on Wednesday night.

Senior Lovion Bell scored seven points in a one-minute span to turn a 50-41 lead for the Blue Devils into a 13-point advantage late in the fourth quarter.

Everett Barnes followed up the act with a pair of seismic slam dunks to send the home crowd into a frenzy and increase Burlington City's lead to 61-44 with 2:12 left to play.

"It's amazing," Barnes said. "I wanted to give them energy because we were gonna win it."

The Blue Devils continue to play with a chip on their shoulders after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out their 2020 season.

Warrick's squad has also benefited from an exigent Burlington County Scholastic League schedule headlined by larger schools such as Cinnaminson, Pemberton, Medford Tech and Westampton Tech.

"It's just a culmination of a couple things," Warrick said. "The fact that we didn't play during COVID at all. ... Our schedule is difficult. We play one Group 1 (school) all year. We're in a league with (teams from groups) threes and fours, so it beats us up during the year, but it helps us at this time of the year."

Barnes and Bell were members of last year's Group 1 state finalist team. The latter of the two sank five triples and scored a team-high 17 points in the state semifinals against Gloucester City to punch Burlington City's ticket to Jersey Mike's Arena.

Their experience has benefited the Blue Devils in their latest surge as their teammates lean on them for leadership.

They know what it takes.

"We were there last year," Bell said. "We're not letting nothing get ahead of us. We're just going one game at a time."

Barnes finished with a team-high 17 points and 14 rebounds. The sophomore dominated the paint with his improved footwork and increased aggression.

"He has progressed," Warrick said. "He's doing what we're asking in the summertime. He's doing what we're asking in practice. We expect him to continue to get better."

Anthony Farmer, Jr. powered the Rams with a game-high 23 points. Jabez Dejesus added 14 in the setback. Salem concluded its campaign with a 13-13 record.

"I'm very proud," Salem coach Anthony Farmer, Sr. said. "We developed. We came together down the stretch. We talked about the journey all year long. We knew it was going to be a different journey than last year. We embraced every challenge that came along with it. This team came together.

"I can't be more proud of these guys. They came into a tough environment tonight. Give Burlington City credit. They play hard. We fought, we battled, we were just a few plays away."

The Blue Devils improved their record to 18-9 and advanced to their group's sectional semifinals for the sixth time since 2017. Burlington City will visit top-seeded Wildwood in the South Jersey Group 1 semifinals on Friday.

The Blue Devils have unfinished business to handle.

"All the guys were on the ride last year," Warrick said. "They know what we're expecting. We're pleased with our progress so far."

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