By Nolan Uribe
When teams start to build momentum, it’s usually the little things that stand out. A big rebound, a clutch shot, a perfect pass, a key defensive stop, an important contribution off the bench. The Aces, winners of four straight and six of their last seven games, got all of the above on Friday night in a very satisfying, very important 57-53 win over Ridley.
Up seven with four minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Aces saw their lead dwindle to one with less than 15 seconds on the clock. Without a time-out and needing to inbound the ball against Ridley’s swarming press, Coach Gregg Downer had to be thinking déjà vu. Just last month, the Aces had held a one-point lead against Ridley and coughed up the ball in a similar situation in the closing seconds, giving the Green Raiders the win.
Clearly, the Aces learned their lesson.
The sure-handed Luke Chambers held the ball on the sideline and surveyed the court like a quarterback checking off his receivers. With his options seemingly exhausted, Chambers fired a laser to Mike Robbins who was streaking towards the basket on the far side of the court. Robbins caught the pass in stride and was fouled en route to the rim. He knocked down a critical free-throw to give the Aces a two-point advantage.
LM needed one more stop.
Ridley turned to star forward Sean Church on their final possession. Church started his drive from the three-point line and lofted a jumper over the outstretched arms of the Aces’ defense. The ball clanged off the back iron, setting off a mad scramble for the final rebound. Just ten seconds earlier, Downer had inserted the 6’6 Darryl Reynolds for precisely this moment. The junior center rose through the chaos and snared the ball near the rim. He passed it to Eric Green, who immediately heaved the ball up court to a sprinting Matt McKenna. McKenna finished the play – and the game – with a pretty layup to seal the final score.
With the win, the Aces got payback for one of their toughest losses of the season, and notched their first victory over the Green Raiders since a heartbreaking defeat in the Central League semifinals last season.
Eric Green ’11 once again set the tone for Lower Merion, scoring a team-high 16 points, including eight during the pivotal third quarter. The senior forward crashed the offensive glass with abandon, scoring many of his points off of put-backs. Robbins, Mike Buchwald and Darius Hall each contributed eight points. Buchwald and Hall had the unenviable task of keeping Church in check for much of the night, and made the Ridley star work for his points. Rounding out the scoring were BJ Johnson (6 points), Raheem Hall (4 points), Reynolds (4 points), McKenna (2 points) and Chambers (1 point). Mark Krantz, Dan Peterson and Colin Eisenstaedt also contributed off the Aces’ deep and talented bench.
It was a solid night, and the formula seems to be a good one if the Aces hope to continue their late season surge. Grit, depth and just enough of the little things can often produce big results.
Special kudos to the Dawg Pound members who made the Friday night road trip. It wasn’t the biggest Pound in recent memory, but those who were there delivered a spirited, high-octane performance.
The surging Aces face a major test in their next match-up, a battle with New Jersey power Malcom Shabazz of Newark on Sunday. Shabazz has won two state titles in recent years and are in the mix once again. Tip-off is 3:30 PM at Philadelphia University.
Lower Merion: 13 13 19 12 – 57
Ridley: 15 7 17 14 – 53