With history on the line, the Aces didn't have to play pretty. They just had to win. And that's exactly what they did Monday night, holding off hard-charging Ridley 57-50 to win the 2013 Central League Championship. In so doing, the Aces earned back-to-back league titles for the first time since 2002 and notched their first back-to-back, undefeated league campaigns since the storied state championship years of 1942 and 1943. LM's record-breaking league win streak now stands at 42.
The Aces have been so dominant that the game's final margin -- seven points -- represented a legitimate story line. The last time the Aces had a single-digit victory against a league opponent was February 4th, 2011, when they beat the Green Raiders 57-53.
Those who have followed Aces Basketball through the years know that Ridley is a worthy and respected foe and a frequent foil in LM's quest for league supremacy. The Aces and Green Raiders have waged memorable high-stakes battles, often with league titles on the line. It was only fitting that with LM looking to put an exclamation mark on their historic run, Ridley would have an opportunity to play the role of spoiler.
And for nearly three quarters, it was a role they played quite well -- almost too well for Aces fans.
Early on, it looked like another LM blowout. The Aces jumped to an 8-0 first quarter lead and led 20-13 after the first frame behind seven quick points from BJ Johnson '14. LM extended the lead to 28-13 on a Corey Sherman '15 trey mid-way through the second and looked to be in cruise control. But Ridley ended the half on a 15-8 run, stemmed only by a Raheem Hall '13 dunk off a huge steal by Justin McFadden '14 in the closing minutes of the second frame.
With the Aces struggling to find an offensive rhythm, Ridley continued to chip away. With 1:34 left to play in the third quarter, the Green Raiders drilled a three to knot the game at 42-42, marking the first time the Aces had been tied with a league opponent in the second half of any game all season. Momentum was shifting and the Aces needed a big bucket.
Sherman answered the call, drilling another three just before the end of the frame much to the delight of an anxious Dawg Pound. It was a pivotal sequence. Instead of going into the fourth tied, the Aces had a 45-42 lead and the ball. The Green Raiders battled till the final whistle, but would get no closer the rest of the way. The Aces hit enough free throws and came up with the necessary stops to effectively quell Ridley's hopes for an upset.
Johnson, sidelined all last week with the flu, returned to the lineup to score 14 points. Yohanny Dalembert '13 and Hall notched 10 points apiece. JaQuan Johnson '14 (9 points), Sherman (6 points), McFadden (6 points) and Jule Brown '15 rounded out the LM attack.
When the final buzzer sounded, the weight of the moment was lifted and the Aces could finally celebrate. With the District playoffs looming, however, it may take time to fully appreciate the enormity of this team's accomplishment. These precious, winning moments are all too brief in the ephemeral present. Thankfully, the players and coaches each have pieces of history -- in the form of nylon twine -- to recall memories and achievements that can never be taken away.
The Aces now turn their attention to the PIAA District 1 Playoffs. LM will host an opponent TBD on Friday night at home at 7 PM. More details to follow after the District seeding meeting on Tuesday night.