The Aces love a road trip, especially when it’s to Hershey.
LM continued its winning ways in the Sweetest Place On Earth, downing Hershey High School 79-69 on Saturday evening at Milton Hershey School in the first round of the PIAA state playoffs. The last time the Aces were in town, they defeated Chester to win the 2013 state title.
The stakes were just a bit higher last March, but Saturday’s contest was certainly satisfying – and historic in its own right. With the victory, the Aces have earned state playoff wins in four consecutive seasons for the first time since 1940-43. Senior Justin McFadden became the first player in team history to be part of 100 career victories, dating back to his ninth grade season.
And for a team that was battling injuries to key players, it was yet another impressive accomplishment in a turnaround season. LM is 20-2 in the new year, following a 2-5 start in 2013.
The Aces used superior speed and playmaking and balanced scoring to neutralize the Trojans’ size advantage on Saturday. LM led 17-11 after one and led by as many as nine in the second before a late Trojans run and buzzer-beating three before halftime narrowed the gap to 26-24. LM shot just 2-15 from beyond the arc in the first half, helping to keep Hershey in the game.
After the break, the Aces used a 10-2 surge to seize control. McFadden opened the half with two free throws. Steve Pendleton ’15 and JaQuan Johnson ’14 converted consecutive steals in the backcourt for layups and Corey Sherman ’15 nailed a pull-up jumper forcing a Hershey time-out. The Trojans closed to within seven a 50-43, but Sherman drilled a trey just before the end of the frame to put LM back up by ten. LM forced nine Hershey turnovers in the period.
The Aces held a double-digit advantage for most of a physical fourth quarter. The Trojans attempted to extend the game by fouling early and often, but the Aces kept their cool and hit their free throws. For the game LM shot 25-28, including a brilliant 11-12 performance at the stripe from McFadden, who has now played in more postseason contests than players like Kobe Bryant ‘96, Greer Heindel ’43 and Greg Robbins ‘09.
Sherman led five Aces in double figures with 18 points. McFadden added 16 points, 8 rebounds and two blocks. Johnson, returning to action after an injury in the Spring-Ford game, added 13 points in a gritty performance. Pendleton chipped in with 13 points and Jule Brown ’15 had 12 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists despite being limited by foul trouble. Oliver Henry ’14 (4 points) and Noah Fennell ’18 (3 points) rounded out the scoring. Henry’s driving layup over Hershey’s 6’8 center in the fourth helped seal the game.
With the win, the Aces advance to play District 12 champs Roman Catholic on Wednesday night at a site and time TBD. The Cahillites knocked off Oxford 48-38 in another first round game.
LM traveled two hours to play their first round game at a “neutral” site against a team whose home gym was two minutes away. In fact, the Aces had the farthest first round trip of any team in the state. But the outcome was the same as it has been for the past three years and the same as it was in Chocolate Town last spring. Justin McFadden has been part of all of them – and 96 more.
That’s pretty sweet, indeed.