It may not have been a masterpiece, but the Aces did something they hadn?t done all season on Friday night. Backs against the wall, and pushed to the brink by a gritty, senior-laden Council Rock North squad, they found a way to win a tight game in the closing seconds. And it wasn?t just any tight game, it was round one of the District 1 playoffs ? where winners advance and losers go home.
With 17 seconds left on the clock and the Aces trailing by one after a late rally by the Indians, Steve Pendleton ?15 calmly drove the lane, sidestepped a defender and lofted a runner that softly dropped through the net to give his team the lead at 38-37. It would prove the difference in the game, as LM?s defense held on the final Rock North possession. A last second jumper by the Indians caromed off the rim and Aces Nation exploded onto the floor in celebration.
The Aces knew they were in for a battle on Friday against an Indians squad that entered with an identical regular season record (14-8), and an experienced, balanced starting five. The Indians jumped out to an early lead and led by as many as seven in the second quarter. But the Aces hung tough thanks to their defense and a Jule Brown ?15 three at the halftime buzzer cut Rock North?s advantage to one at 17-16.
LM used full court pressure to turn the Indians over three times at the start of the third quarter and built a 26-19 lead behind a three from Brown and consecutive layups from Asher Barry ?15. But by the end of the quarter, Council Rock North pulled back within one, setting up a heart-pounding final frame.LM led 34-28 at the halfway mark of the fourth quarter thanks to a Corey Sherman ?15 three and a pair of KJ Helton ?16 free throws before the Indians? late rally gave them their brief, final lead of the game.
The Aces shot poorly, but they took care of the basketball, committing only seven turnovers. And their defense was as airtight as it had been all season, holding the Indians to their lowest scoring output of the year.
Perhaps most importantly, they showed toughness and grit, finding a way to take care of business when the stakes were highest.