Dear Friends of Lower Merion Basketball,
We're going to the Palestra!
Displaying the grit, determination and unyielding will to win that have become hallmarks of Lower Merion basketball, the Aces pulled out a 57-50 victory against Springfield in a hostile, sold out Springfield gym on Friday night. The win secures a District Final Four match-up with undefeated Plymouth Whitemarsh at The Palestra on Tuesday night (8:30 PM tipoff). For the Aces, it's the 2nd straight trip to the District semis and a reminder to District 1 that Aces Nation is alive and well. Tickets to the game will be available on Monday through the high school athletic office (610-645-1820 for more info) or at the Palestra ticket window. This is a can't miss event -- make sure you are there to fill Philly's hallowed hoop halls with a sea of maroon and white. The game will again be webcast on the Internet - details to come...To listen to Friday's game online, click here.
Friday night's contest had all the ingredients for a classic. After splitting the regular season series and finishing as league co-champs, the Aces and Cougars earned the opportunity for a playoff rubber match thanks to 2nd round wins and the creative bracketology of the District 1 seeding committee. Springfield, by virture of a tie-break determined by a Central League "arbitration committee," earned the 4th seed and the right to home-court advantage against the 5th seeded Aces, setting the stage for Friday's battle. Both teams had already earned convincing state-qualifying victories. Both teams boasted a passionate and loyal fan base hungry for a trip to the Palestra.
We often talk about the basketball season being a journey, with multiple legs marked by distinct goals. When we approached the 05-06 season we talked about "leg 1" including a run at the Central League title and a state playoff bid earned at home. In a poignant and ironic reminder that the first leg of our journey at home was indeed over, the lights went out -- literally-- on our 6 PM Thursday practice as we were readying to prepare for the Cougars. A transformer outside the school exploded into flames at 5:45 PM, just as the kids were taking the court for pre-practice warm-ups. The gym went dark and the building was evacuated - Montgomery Avenue was shut down as fire crews raced to the scene. With the help of last week's fan of the week, Dan Kazanicka, and our friends in Narberth, we were able to gain access to St. Margaret School for a brief X's and O's session. Film review followed at another unusual location -- my apartment -- as players and coaches crammed in front of the TV to check out footage of our last performance against Springfield.
Back at school the next day, power was on and so was the mad scramble for tickets. Because of the small size of Springfield's gym, only a limited number of seats were available for our fans. After providing for players' families, a lottery system yielded 130 additional seats for students and faculty. By some accounts, students who did not "win" the lottery were purchasing scalped tickets for upwards of $40 a piece - others (some of whom literally were crying) resorted to begging and pleading their case to teachers and classmates. The generosity of the staff cannot be overstated - many teachers gave up their tickets at no cost so that students could have a chance to cheer on the team. And the Dawg Pound did not disappoint...
When the team bus arrived at Springfield's gym, our fans were already in the parking lot tailgating and getting their maroon gear and facepaint in order. Almost 45 minutes before gametime, as we were unwinding in the locker room, the murmur of the crowd steadily grew to a roar, as opposing student sections began their chants and cheers. The sound carried into the locker room as the kids began their stretching - the feeling, the sense of anticipation was absolutely electric. The noise never stopped. Much credit goes to our Dawg Pound student section, who despite being heavily outnumbered, made the place rock with their best performance of the season. They were a phenomenal "sixth man," with a constant stream of loud and enthusiastic support.
Oh, and yes, there was a ballgame played...Springfield opened with a bucket from Central League MVP, Richmond-bound 6'8 senior Dan Geriot and got out to an early 7-2 lead. The Aces countered with good trips of zone offense and a three-ball in rhythm from Greg Robbins to win the first quarter 13-9. Jr. forward Adam Ellison provided a spark in the starting lineup, helping to limit Geriot's touches and scoring four first-quarter points. The Aces pushed the margin to 7 early in the 2nd, but the Cougars clawed back and trailed at halftime by only 1, 24-23. It was a taught, intense first-half that saw stellar defensive play on both sides, particularly from Ryan Brooks, who drew the tough assignment of Frank McKnight, Springfield's Division 1 point guard prospect. Brooks set the tone in the 2nd, altering two of McKnight's shots and frustrating the talented Cougar with length and athleticism. McKnight finished the game with only ten points on 4-17 shooting.
In the 2nd half, we were able to gain a small working margin with Garrett, Ryan and Greg attacking the basket and Geriot committing his 3rd foul. Adam continued his inspired play, ripping a 50/50 ball from a Springfield opponent and converting a 3-point play off an offensive rebound put back. The Aces led by five going into the fourth. With the gap narrowed to 3, Eric Barefield made perhaps the defensive play of the game, diving with full extension to knock the ball away from McKnight in the backcourt - Brooks picked up the loose ball and passed it to Williamson who was fouled, leading to two free throws and another 5 point margin. For the game, the Aces went to the free-throw line 27 times, converting 17 shots.
Late in the 4th, Geriot, who led all scorers with 24 points, converted two three-point plays to bring Springfield back within one with under four minutes to play. The Aces countered with a bucket by Robbins and another made free-throw by Williamson. After a missed 3 pt attempt by Springfield sniper Chris Vantanhausen (who was blanketed brilliantly all night by Pete Lucas), Brooks extended the lead to six with a layup to cap a long, disciplined trip of offense. The Aces made enough free throws down the stretch to hang on for the 57-50 win. In familiar fashion, our delirious fans celebrated by storming the court and bouncing together until long after the final buzzer had sounded. The team followed post-game victory tradition as well, enjoying a pizza party -- Bella Italia style -- back in Ardmore.
Ryan (18 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals) and Garrett (18 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks) joined Greg (9 points, 6 rebounds), Adam (8 points, 4 rebounds), Pete (2 points, 3 assists) and Eric (2 points) in the scoring column. Ernest Moore and Arian Thompson turned in outstanding defensive performances. Special kudos to the Aces' enthusiastic and vocal bench, including Carl Johnson, Jon Gray, Kevin Escott, Eric Stahler, Steve Meehan, Chase Thompson and Ben Lucas, whose support rallied the team all night.
Thanks, again for your continued support. We hope to see you at the PALESTRA on Tuesday night!