After a stirring run to their third straight Central League championship and fourth consecutive state playoff berth, the Aces’ magical late season surge hit a bump on Friday night as LM fell just short in a 68-60 playoff setback to Conestoga. It was the first time in more than a month and just the second time in 2014 that the Aces found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
The Aces battled hard to the end, but couldn’t knock off a tall, talented Pioneers squad for the third straight time this season. It was Conestoga’s first victory over LM in their last 13 tries.
Trailing by ten in the first quarter, the Aces mounted a steady comeback to draw within four by halftime at 37-33 behind threes from Nick Jones ’15 and Justin McFadden ’14. In the third, the Aces tied the game on a McFadden layup at 45-45, then took their first lead on a pair of JaQuan Johnson ’14 free throws with less than a minute to play. But the Pioneers connected on a desperation trey at the third quarter buzzer, putting a halt to LM’s momentum.
Conestoga extended its lead to seven early in the fourth before a Johnson layup and Jones three narrowed the gap to 54-52 with less than four minutes to play. The Aces had two chances to tie or go ahead in their next two possessions but couldn’t convert. It wasn’t for lack of effort – or decent looks. Several seemingly-automatic LM layups hung on the rim and dropped out; threes that they made in previous games just wouldn’t go down. For the game, LM shot just 5-21 from beyond the arc. Jones was a bright spot on the perimeter, going 3-5 from three and scoring a team-high 15 points. McFadden (14 points) and Steve Pendleton ’14 (10 points) also reached double-figures.
Credit the Pioneers, playing in front of their home crowd, for an excellent performance, particularly on the glass. Conestoga outrebounded the Aces 35-13 – a gaping deficit that simply was too much for LM to overcome. The Pioneers earned a measure of revenge for their loss to the Aces in the league championship game on February 11 and provided a reminder of the difficulty in beating a quality opponent three times in one season.
Despite the setback, LM remains one of the hottest teams in the state. Winners of 12 of their last 13 games and 17 of 19, LM has resurrected the season after starting 2-5. The 9th-seeded Aces have two District playoff games remaining to determine seeding heading into the state playoffs. First up is a match-up on the road at #4 Spring-Ford on Tuesday night at 7 PM.