SOMERDALE (N.J.) - Sterling High School boys' basketball coach Justin Barringer acknowledged the electricity of "The Castle" as player introductions unraveled.
The Silver Knights' student section waved a blue and white flag that depicted the school's logo and mascot while dressed in Hawaiian-themed attire as their roars grew louder and louder with each player's name announced prior to the opening tip.
Sterling consumed the energy and jumped out to an 18-6 lead en route to a 53-46 victory over Overbrook in the South Jersey Group 2 quarterfinals on Thursday night.
"That's why you play high school basketball," Barringer said. "You play high school basketball for this reason alone. Usually, I tell them don't play to the crowd, but in these environments, you have to appreciate the student section and the love that they have. Those are the kids they see in the hallways and that's a beautiful thing. I want them to enjoy it and they had fun doing it. If you don't (appreciate it), it passes you by."
Sterling's fan section applauds and cheers during player introductions in the South Jersey Group 2 quarterfinals at Sterling High School in Somerdale, New Jersey on Thursday, February 23, 2023. Kiersten Cowgill/D2 Sports Network
Walt Garrison scored seven of the Silver Knights' first 12 points and converted an and-one to put his team up 12-5 with 2:23 left in the opening stanza.
Garrison tallied nine points in the first quarter and scored 11 of his team-high 17 in the opening half. The senior also accumulated seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
"Once I realized who I had on me, not to be cocky, I realized I could get to the basket whenever I could," Garrison said. "I kept doing it. I could finish whenever I wanted to. They switched their best player on me which kind of opened up C.J. (Mundell)'s shots, Jaydis (McFadden)'s shots, everybody else."
Sterling's Walt Garrison (21) leaps towards the basket as Overbrook's Shaun Mills (10) defends and Sterling's Caleb Mundell (24) boxes out Overbrook's Dillon Dixon (12) in the South Jersey Group 2 quarterfinals at Sterling High School in Somerdale, New Jersey on Thursday, February 23, 2023. Kiersten Cowgill/D2 Sports Network
The Rams put together a 10-2 run to cut Sterling's lead to 20-16 late in the second quarter. Sterling's Caleb "C.J." Mundell was forced to sit for a majority of the second period after picking up two fouls.
"Once he subbed me out, I was kind of mad because I like being in the game," Mundell said. "I trust my teammates to just keep this thing going and they did."
Mundell returned to the floor to provide a spark as him and Garrison responded with points of their own to terminate Overbrook's offensive spurt. Travis Schmid lofted a Hail Mary to beat the buzzer as the Sterling Knights traveled the length of the court in 2.6 seconds to build an 11-point advantage at halftime.
"Travis hit a halfcourt shot," Mundell said. "We've never hit a halfcourt shot or a buzzer beater for anything and every other team has on us. But now we got our first one in the playoffs."
The 6-foot-4 senior finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Mundell has also garnered NCAA Division II and III interest from Stockton, California (Pa.), Mary Washington, The College of New Jersey, Immaculata, Albright, St. Elizabeth, Widener and Penn State Abington.
The Rams didn't shy away. Overbrook charted nine unanswered points to conclude the third quarter and tie the contest at 36-36.
"They're a great team," Garrison said. "They're not a bad team by any means. They were 22-6 coming into this and obviously you can't make it to the second round without being some type of good. We knew that they were a hard team that could battle."
Mundell drained an NBA range 3-pointer on Sterling's first offensive possession of the fourth quarter to spark a 12-5 run and help secure the victory.
Devon Johnson paced the Rams with a game-high 21 points and seven rebounds. David Haywood tallied 14 points, six rebounds and three steals.
After losing transfers in the offseason, Johnson and Haywood were the constants of the program. The senior duo developed an unbreakable bond with first-year coach Donny Lang.
"They mean the world to me," Lang said. "As a first-year head coach, to inherit the players is great, but to inherit them as people and kids to hang around with every day at practice, that's what I love. That's what I'm going to miss the most. ... They are some awesome kids."
Overbrook's Devon Johnson (14) attempts a layup as Sterling's Julian Johnson (3) defends in the South Jersey Group 2 quarterfinals at Sterling High School in Somerdale, New Jersey on Thursday, February 23, 2023. Kiersten Cowgill/D2 Sports Network
Overbrook concluded its campaign with a 22-7 record and accumulated its most wins in a single season since 1984, per Lang. The Rams reached the Tri-County Conference final for the third time in as many seasons and won a playoff match for the second consecutive year.
"It's going to take a couple days, but they're going to realize how special this season was and what they did for our program moving forward," Lang said. "I think we showed a lot of people that you can't count us out and everyone did to start the season. I think we proved a lot of people wrong just by believing in ourselves."
The Silver Knights earned a rubber match with top-seeded Haddonfield with their latest triumph. Sterling defeated the Haddons in January but fell short in the latest matchup on February 9.
"I think we can beat them," Garrison said. "We did it before, we can do it again."