For the fourth consecutive year and the eighth time in the last decade, the Lower Merion Aces are headed to the state playoffs. The Maroon & White punched their ticket with an impressive 58-43 victory over Penn Wood on Tuesday night. Unlike the last two years, however, this year’s Aces team had to get the job done on the road, in a raucous gym known as The Shoebox. The Aces were up to the task, taking care of business in cool, calm and collected fashion.
Trailing 14-13 after the first frame, the Aces slowly began to seize control of the game thanks to timely threes, strong foul shooting and effective clock management. Corey Sherman ’13 provided the spark in the second quarter, drilling an early trey off a JaQuan Johnson ’14 feed to give the Aces their first lead at 16-14 and nailing two more later in the frame to give his squad the lead for good. Also during the run, Jule Brown ’14 threw down a slam on the break, igniting a large, loud traveling Dawg Pound. The Aces went into halftime up just 29-25, but momentum was clearly on their side.
Following intermission, the Aces turned to Justin McFadden ’14 to help break open a tight game. After a Penn Wood three cut the Aces’ lead to one, McFadden hit threes on the next two LM possessions to push the margin to seven at 35-28. Less than a minute later, he added another three to give the Aces their first double-digit advantage. The senior swingman also did his damage on the interior, attacking a tall, athletic Patriots front line at close range, drawing fouls and securing a game-high 12 rebounds.
The defensive pressure of LM’s speedy guards began to take its toll on Penn Wood’s backcourt as well. Johnson, Steve Pendleton ’15 (4 points) and Nick Jones ’15 closed gaps, contested shots and harassed the Patriots into multiple turnovers. On the offensive end, the trio played long stretches of keep-away, drawing defenders and then finding open teammates on the perimeter or in the paint. A late third-quarter trey by Sherman after a long possession gave the Aces their largest lead in the frame at 44-32.
In the fourth, the Aces continued to control the ball and earned multiple trips to the free-throw line after Penn Wood was forced to foul. LM closed the game efficiently, making stops, converting foul shots and dashing any hope of a Penn Wood comeback.
A gym that had been so loud and frenetic at tip-off was remarkably serene. The Penn Wood faithful had been resigned to their fate for much of the second half. The Aces fans gave a hearty rouse for a satisfying, convincing performance. But there was no court-storming, no delirium -- just a sense of appreciation for and belief in a team that has come a long, long way and has earned the right to play quite a bit longer.
An historical note: The Aces have earned three consecutive trips to the state playoffs multiple times in school history, but this is just the second time that an LM squad has made it at least four straight. The last such streak was 1939-1944, a six-year run that included three state titles (41, 42, 43).
LM returns to action Friday night at 7 PM in a District 1 Quarterfinals match-up at top-seeded Conestoga.