Talk about sweet revenge. The Aces pulled out all the stops on Friday night in a 77-53 spanking of #1 seed Upper Darby in the PIAA District 1 Quarterfinals. The win avenged two regular season losses to the Royals and propelled the Aces into a third consecutive District 1 Final Four for the first time since 1944. The Aces (21-6) held the Royals (24-3) to their lowest point total this season and the 22-point final margin represented the most lopsided loss for Upper Darby in nearly three years. Lower Merion shot a blistering 62% from the field, while limiting Upper Darby's vaunted perimeter attack to just one trey and 18 total field goals.
The Aces exploded in the first two minutes of the game, racing to a 10-2 lead and energizing a huge Dawg Pound that packed the bleachers at WC East High School. Upper Darby battled to keep the game close, drawing within a point late in the first, but Lower Merion found a rhythm and began to extend the margin in the second frame. Guards Eric Barefield (9 points, 6 assists, 3 steals), Carl Johnson (17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals) and Eric Stahler (7 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds) found gaps in the Royals defense, penetrating to the cup and finding forwards Greg Robbins and Adam Ellison in the paint. Robbins, who led all scorers with 18 points (5 rebounds, 5 blocks), picked up his third foul and had to sit midway through the 2nd quarter, but the Aces were able to maintain and expand their lead thanks to lockdown defense and torrid shooting.
A clutch three by Stahler, several nifty jumphooks from Ellison (9 points), strong drives by Kevin Escott (7 points), and Johnson's and Barefield's relentless attacks on the rim keyed a 17-5 run. At the halftime buzzer, Steve Meehan (8 points, 4 rebounds) drilled a long two to send the Aces to the locker room with a 38-23 lead. Lower Merion held the Royals to just five 2nd quarter points, including a five and a half-minute stretch without a field goal.
The onslaught continued in the 2nd half and the Royals would draw no closer than 16 points the rest of the way. In the closing seconds of the 4th, junior reserve Michael Joseph punctuated the game with a dazzling scoop layup, sending Aces Nation into a frenzy. As the buzzer sounded, fans stormed the court to celebrate a remarkable victory. Just over two months ago, a young Aces squad was struggling through a 4-3 start, including a 21-point home loss at the hands of Upper Darby. The Aces have come a long, long way and in so doing have earned their shortest road trip of the season. On Tuesday night, they'll take a ten-minute ride down Lancaster Ave. to play at Villanova's Pavillion for an 8 PM Final Four match-up with Plymouth Whitemarsh.
How sweet is that?