CLAYTON — Tyler Tomlin will remember the final seconds of Tuesday’s South Jersey Group I title game for all the wrong reasons.

The Wildwood High School senior guard eventually will remember the entire state tournament for the right ones.

Clayton rallied in the final minutes and beat Wildwood 64-63 to win the sectional championship. Wildwood led by seven with 2 minutes, 35 seconds left. Clayton closed the game on a 12-4 run.

The final seconds left the Warriors with a hopeless feeling. Seamus Fynes of Wildwood grabbed an offensive rebound and scored with 7.3 seconds left. The Warriors were out of timeouts. The clock ticked to zero, and Clayton began a raucous celebration.

“That was the last seconds (of my high school career),” Tomlin said. “That’s it for me. I’ll never forget those seconds.”

The loss ended a stunning state tournament run for Wildwood. The 14th-seeded Warriors advanced to the final with wins over No. 3 seed Salem (62-55), No. 11 seed Pitman (49-46) and second-seed Glassboro (57-53).

“It was the most fun I ever had in my life — 100 percent, hands down,” Tomlin said. “We proved a lot of people wrong. A lot of people counted us out, but we just uplifted the entire community, the entire school. Everyone was behind us.”

Fans jammed into Clayton’s tiny gym for the contest. The gym was seemingly as loud as any NBA arena. Fans of both teams stood much of the fourth quarter.

Clayton, like Wildwood, was a surprise finalist. The Clippers were the No. 8 seed.

Wildwood sought its first S.J. title since it beat Clayton in the 1979 championship game. Clayton won its first sectional championship since it beat Wildwood in 1980.

Clayton favors an up-tempo style. The Clippers hurt Wildwood with their ability to grab offensive rebounds and score. The Clippers scored 16 points on putbacks.

Still, the Warriors put themselves in position to win.

Tomlin sank timely 3-pointers, scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Karl Brown scored 12, and Max McGrath finished with 11 for Wildwood.

Tomlin sank a 3-pointer and followed it with a driving layup to put the Warriors up 59-52 with 4:28 left.

On offense, Wildwood then tried to take time off the clock by passing around the perimeter, but the Warriors still wanted to look for open layups.

Wildwood, however, didn’t score and instead committed some costly turnovers.

“We were trying to stall, but still the score the ball,” Wildwood coach Scott McCracken said. “We had a couple of opportunities where we could have scored layups, but we threw the ball away. You have to give Clayton credit. Their kids did a great job of hanging in and staying tough.”

Clippers guard Dorien Depina scored in the lane with 2:33 left to begin a 10-2 Clayton run.

The Clippers scored three baskets after grabbing offensive rebounds during the decisive surge. The biggest basket came when Justin Mills rebounded a missed Clayton foul shot and scored to make it 62-61 Clippers with 29 seconds left.

With the ball and down one, Wildwood committed another turnover.

After two Depina free throws with 14.5 seconds left, Tomlin missed a 3-pointer from the deep left corner. Wildwood scored off the offensive rebound but could not stop the clock.

Clayton fans and players mobbed each other at center court. Meanwhile, the Wildwood fans watched in disappointment.

The Warriors’ locker room was quiet afterward. The thrill of reaching of the final wasn’t yet enough to dull the pain of Tuesday’s defeat.

“It hurts pretty bad,” Tomlin said. “We knew we had it.”

Wildwood;11 21 20 11 – 63

Clayton;19 12 16 17 – 64

WW – Brown 12, Burke 1, Fynes 10, Long 4, McGrath 11, Tomlin 23, Zielinski 2

CL – Bishop 3, Cruz 12, DePina 15, Gibson 7, Hill 4, Jones 12, Mills 4, Pretlow 5, Weldon 2

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Contact: 609-272-7209 MMcGarry@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressMcGarry

Staff Writer

I've covered high school sports and variety of other events and teams - including the ShopRite LPGA Classic and the Phillies - since 1993.

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