The 2008-09 squad captured the hearts of Aces Nation with their grit, determination and genuine affection for one another en route to a 17-game win streak, Central League championship, and state playoff berth.
It was not for a lack of effort, a lack of ability, or for a lack of heart. No, instead, it was the little things that did the Aces in. Missed free throws cost the Maroon & White dearly, as they were eliminated from the State Playoffs by District 11 champ Parkland 57-53 on Saturday in Allentown. Their effort on the floor – the Aces’ passion and desire to win – kept the game close; miscues at the line and a couple of unlucky breaks let their lead and their remarkable season slip away.
Saturday’s game was nip-and-tuck throughout, with neither Parkland nor Lower Merion able to control momentum. Playing in the Trojans’ backyard, LM showed gritty resolve in turning a nine-point first-half deficit into a lead going into the halftime break. Down by three at the end of the first frame, the Aces, who lost to Parkland by 14 in their first game of the season, were able to nail shot after shot from beyond the three-point arc to gain a 29-27 halftime lead. Through the first two quarters, 21 of Lower Merion’s 29 points came courtesy of the long-ball. For the game, the Aces finished with a season-high 11 treys.
A late third quarter turn of events set the Aces back and they were never able to regain the lead, even though the game was close all the way to the end. With four minutes to play in the third and holding a one-point lead, the Aces had a chance to take control of momentum as they headed to the line for two technical free throws, to be followed by possession of the ball. LM was unable to capitalize on either free throw or the possession and Parkland pounced on the missed opportunity. The Aces would be held to two points for the rest of the quarter (including four additional missed free throw attempts) and the Trojans buried a desperation half-court heave at the buzzer to take a four-point lead into the fourth.
After falling down by six early in the final frame, the Aces cut lead to one on an Oliver Cohen trey with two minutes to play. Parkland would score on the next possession to push the lead back to three. With just over a minute left on the clock, Alon Seltzer converted a steal for a layup to cut the lead back to one. An LM foul sent Parkland to the line with 38 seconds to play, but the Aces could not corral the rebound on the second free-throw and were forced to foul. The final backbreaker came on a stunning decision by the sideline official, who called an intentional foul on Eric Stahler after a scramble for the ball. The Trojans would have two free-throws and possession, effectively putting the game out of reach.
But the tough call really shouldn’t have been a factor. The Aces followed a solid game plan, executed offensively, outrebounded the bigger Trojans, and limited Parkland’s high-flying forward Jaleel Clark to 14 hard-earned points. Ultimately, the Aces couldn’t overcome their 5-16 performance from the charity stripe. Parkland in turn shot 12-15, and that was the difference in the game.
As he had done all season, Greg Robbins set the tone. Leading the way with a game-high 18 points, the Richmond-bound senior nailed three treys and hit clutch baskets in both halves while playing great interior defense. Harley Williamson, the Aces’ stalwart down low notched 11 points and held the Trojans’ 6’9 Jon Ward to seven points. Point guard Eric Stahler, who brilliantly handled the task of defending the 6’5 Clark, scored five points, nailed a critical three and handed out five assists. Alon Seltzer (10 points, 2-4 3 PT) and Oliver Cohen (9 points, 3-6 3 PT) were dynamite from beyond the arc. Once again, Vince Weldon and Nick Bibbs provided a defensive spark off the bench.
What the Aces were able to accomplish this season has been nothing short of miraculous. After losing key players to injury at the start of the season and facing continued adversity all season long, LM defied the odds to win the 2009 Central League championship, knocking off rival Conestoga twice in one week. They captured their fourth state playoff bid in the last five years in the best district in Pennsylvania. They won four overtime games, including three games at the buzzer. They had a 17-game winning streak and a state ranking as high as #5. More important and impressive than any of these feats however, was that the team came out every day for nearly five months, playing their hearts out and leaving nothing on the court each and every time they donned the beautiful Maroon & White. They competed like champions and in so doing, they captured the hearts of Aces Nation with their grit, determination and genuine affection and respect for one another.
A full season recap, highlight video and postseason awards and recognition information will be posted in the coming days on aceshoops.com.
Lower Merion 12 17 8 16 – 53
Parkland 15 12 14 16 – 57
LM: Greg Robbins 18, Harley Williamson 11, Alon Seltzer 10, Oliver Cohen 9, Eric Stahler 5.
PHS: Jaleel Clark 14, Paul Pammer 11, Nick Miller 11, Jon Ward 7, Ryan Carlon 6, M.J. Miorelli 5, Matt Muhr 3.