The 2009 Central League Champs gather for a team photo after cutting down the nets on Saturday night
Just five days after beating Conestoga to force a Central League playoff, the Aces faced the Pioneers once again with the league title on the line. The previous match-up between the two league heavyweights was a taught thriller that went back and forth the entire fourth quarter. Saturday evening ended with the same result for LM, but the game played out in a much different manner. This time the Aces were in control from the outset and weathered a late Conestoga run to secure a very, very satisfying 46-41 victory. In so doing, the Maroon & White earned a 32nd league title and will go down in the history books for winning the league’s first four-team championship playoff tournament.
The Aces conclude the regular season with a 20-4 record, but it’s a season that to date has been anything but “regular.” After starting 1-3, and playing without two injured starters for much of the year, the Aces have somehow managed to string together wins in 18 of their last 19 games, including 15 straight overall and a league title heading into District play. Just about left for dead two months ago, LM will likely have a top six District seed when the pairings are announced on Sunday. It’s enough to make even the most die-hard members of Aces Nation scratch their heads. Who woulda thunk it?
On Saturday, the Aces methodically attacked the Pioneers trip-by-trip, quarter-by-quarter. LM held a five-point advantage after the first frame, which featured three pointers by senior Harley Williamson and junior Alon Seltzer. The Aces extended the lead in the 2nd quarter to nine on a Matt McKenna three-pointer and went into halftime up 28-21. The Lower Merion defense enabled the team to pull away, as the Aces limited Conestoga to only 2 points in the third quarter in building a 13 point advantage. The third quarter was punctuated by a massive, one-handed slam by senior Greg Robbins and two strong finishes at the basket by junior Oliver Cohen.
The gritty Pioneers had one last run, and narrowed the gap in the fourth to just two, but a conventional three-point play by Seltzer put the Aces back up by five with just over two minutes to play. The Aces maintained and extended the lead on solid free-throw shooting and effectively closed out another remarkable win, this time with some added meaning in the form of a Central League championship.
It was a night when it seemed there was little Conestoga could do to keep the Aces at bay. Lower Merion jumped to an early lead, hit big shots at key moments and applied consistent defensive pressure. Williamson, who finished with 11 points, attacked the Pioneers’ interior, displaying an explosive first step and finishing strong around the basket, including a hanging reverse lay-up around Cohen as the buzzer sounded to end the first quarter. He teamed with Robbins to limit Conestoga big man Jake Cohen to 14 points on 4 made field goals. Seltzer, who missed the first contest of the season against Conestoga due to illness (a 33-29 Pioneers win), scored a game-high 18 points, including a 7-7 performance from the charity stripe.
Senior Greg Robbins led the Aces’ offensive attack from the point, contributing 8 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocked shots. His on-court leadership once again proved a calming presence during the game’s most intense moments. Coming off the bench, supersoph Matt McKenna drilled a three and two important fourth-quarter free-throws to finish with 5 points. Cohen once again led the team with 6 assists in addition to 4 points. Vince Weldon played the role of defensive stopper on the perimeter.
The Aces’ recent run is a reflection of the chemistry and character of a team playing not as 17 individuals, but as one. The upcoming District playoffs will present another significant challenge, and the Aces’ work is clearly far from over, but it’s difficult not to appreciate what the Aces have done in recent weeks.
Additional Notes…With their loss, the Pioneers fall to 22-2, with both defeats coming at the hands of the Aces in a single week…The outcome of the Central League title game does not impact District seeding and Conestoga is still expected to have one of the top two seeds…It is possible that the Central League will place up to five teams in the AAAA tournament (which begins next Friday) including LM, Conestoga, Penncrest, Upper Darby and Radnor. Not bad for a league that pundits had dismissed as “being down” in 2008-09…The Aces’ District playoff opponent and time and venue of their First Round game will be posted on aceshoops.com by Monday. The draw for the 32-team District Playoffs will take place during a meeting on Sunday morning.
Lower Merion 16 12 8 10 – 46
Conestoga 11 10 2 18 – 41
LM: Alon Seltzer 18, Harley Williamson 11, Greg Robbins 8, Matt McKenna 5, Oliver Cohen 4.
C: Jake Cohen 14, Doug Jakiela 12, Matt O’Hara 7, Paul Mita 4, Zach Shapiro 2, Robert Scott 2.