By M.P Jacob '16
They?ve done it again.
In the state?s toughest district, with a roster that returned just one starter from last season, the Aces have punched a ticket to the promised land of Pennsylvania high school hoops ? the PIAA state playoffs.
On Tuesday night in front of a large home crowd that is suddenly pulsing with expectation, LM rolled Upper Dublin 64-48 to earn a sixth-consecutive state bid and a trip to the District 1 Quarterfinals.
It was a balanced effort for LM, with eight players entering the scoring column and four reaching double-figures. The Aces shared the ball and spread the wealth early and often, cruising to a 16-9 first quarter lead and extending the margin to 34-16 by halftime. Dion Harris '17 led the way in the early going, notching all nine of his points and seven rebounds in the first two quarters. Steve Payne '19 punctuated the Aces' second-quarter rally by converting a three-point play on an acrobatic drive and finish at the rim that ignited chants of "He's a freshman!" from the Aces faithful.
LM continued its surge in the third quarter, forcing an Upper Dublin timeout at the 6:05 mark following a thunderous dunk by Terrell Jones '17 off a feed by KJ Helton '16 that made the score 40-18. Upper Dublin narrowed the margin to 15 by the end of the quarter, but never really threatened and the Aces cruised in the final frame. The finish certainly wasn't as dramatic as Friday night, but the result was even sweeter -- and historic. LM extended District 1's longest active streak of state playoff berths and tied the Bill Anderson-era teams of 1939-44 for the longest such streak in school history. LM has now qualified for state play in ten of the past 12 years.
The current journey has had its twists and turns, but this Aces squad is clearly forging a path it can be proud to call its own. Over the past week, they earned their fifth overtime victory of the season, knocking off a gritty Penn Wood team at the buzzer in a uniform game and steamrolled an Upper Dublin team that had advanced to round two with a win against Abington, the defending District champs. During the regular season, the Aces notched victories over PA powers like McCaskey and York and battled state-ranked Coatesville and Abington Heights to the wire.
The Aces? record now stands at 17-7, matching their victory total from last season with plenty more basketball still possible. Ironically, for a team that played more games on the road this year than any other group in the Downer era, they?ve earned a third straight home playoff game on Friday night thanks to upsets elsewhere in the tournament. The next opponent is a familiar foe. For the third time this season, the Aces will lace up against Conestoga. Though LM has dominated the Pioneers over the last decade (an 18-8 record since 2006), Conestoga has taken three of the past four including both regular season games this year. The Aces earned the higher district seed and home game by virtue of the strength of their season schedule, but Conestoga enters with the recent edge. The winner will move on to the District Final Four at Temple University.
General admission tickets for Friday night's game (7 PM, Bryant Gymnasium) are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the door beginning on game night at 6 PM. Student tickets are available for advance purchase in the athletic office on Thursday and Friday.
Of the nearly 200 4A boys basketball teams that begin the season in November, only 32 earn the opportunity to play in March. Somehow, some way the Aces have done it again. For now, however, there are other prizes to play for. In this most unexpected of Aces seasons, the boys in Maroon & White have proven once again that they belong.