The 11th-seeded Aces earned a trip to the District Final Four at Temple on the heels of a stirring District wins over Penn Wood, Upper Dublin and Conestoga. Despite a scrappy effort against #2 Plymouth Whitemarsh on Tuesday night, they couldn't keep the streak going, falling 53-42 in a game that was closer than the final margin.
For a team that had struggled down the stretch of the regular season, the trip to Temple was heady stuff -- and a testament to how far the team has come in recent weeks. When the Aces arrived at the Liacouras Center, entering via the bus tunnel below the building, there was clearly a sense of awe and wonderment at the moment. Though this was the 24th trip to the District Final Four in program history, the last visit was 2013 - before any of the current players were on the roster. The team walked across the floor, surveyed the scene with wide eyes and headed to the locker room to prepare for the contest.
It was a different scene for the Colonials, who had advanced to the finals in the previous year and returned several starters and D1 signee Xzavier Malone from that bunch.
Though the Aces were decided underdogs, they came out playing like they belonged. The Aces and Colonials went back and forth in the early going with PW taking an 11-10 lead into the second frame. LM trailed by seven early in the second, but used a trey from Noah Fennell '17 to draw within four at 24-20 by the end of the half.
In the third, LM began to make a push, tying the game, but never getting over the hump. On consecutive possessions at 34-34, the Aces couldn't find the mark and PW eventually broke their draught to take a five point lead into the fourth quarter. It looked like the Colonials might begin to break away, building a nine point advantage early in the period, but again the Aces rallied. A bucket by Jeremy Horn '16 was followed by two driving layups by KJ Helton '16. On the second layup, Helton was fouled and converted his own missed free throw into a made jumper, bringing the Aces within three with just over three minutes to play.
The Aces came up with two consecutive stops, but couldn't convert on the offensive end. A PW bucket pushed the margin to five and the Aces were forced to scramble and begin to foul. The Colonials converted at the foul line and hit several buckets against the Aces press to seal the final margin.
It was a tough night, but hopefully a learning experience for the squad. They have much to be proud of -- and much more to play for. The Aces have already qualified for state play as one of the top four seeds from District 1 and will conclude the District playoffs on Saturday in a playback game at Ridley at 1 PM. The Green Raiders fell to Chester in the other semifinal. The winner of Saturday's contest will earn the #3 seed heading into the state tournament.
More info on the road ahead will be posted on aceshoops.com and the Aces Basketball Facebook page in the coming days.