By Tristan Cunha '18
They’ve done it again.
The Aces rallied from a ten-point second half deficit and stunned host Pennsbury 58-55 on Tuesday night to earn their seventh-straight trip to the PIAA State Playoffs.
Trailing 42-32 at the 2:58 mark of the third quarter, the Aces outscored Pennsbury 26-13 over the game’s final 11 minutes. LM took its first lead since the opening minutes of the first quarter on a Steve Payne ‘19 layup midway through the fourth. Pennsbury regained a three-point advantage, but the Aces answered immediately on a Jack Forrest ‘19 trey. After a Pennsbury turnover, Terrell Jones converted a three-point play to put the Aces back in front. With LM up 53-50 and less than a minute on the clock, Noah Fennell ‘17 nailed the dagger -- a three-ball from the right corner that gave LM a working margin that the Falcons couldn’t overcome.
For the second straight game with the season on the line, the Aces simply refused to lose. A strong defensive effort kept LM within striking distance of the tall, talented Falcons despite cold shooting through much of the first three quarters. The Aces remained patient and much as they had done Friday night against CB East, eventually found their stroke; nailing eight of their ten threes after halftime, including five in the fourth quarter. Playing with confidence and perhaps steeled by a season of buzzer-beaters, overtime thrillers and a brutal non-league schedule, the Aces seized their opportunity when it arrived.
Jones had one of his finest performances as an Ace, leading the way with 24 points and seven rebounds and hitting three clutch threes, including one late in the third to initiate the Aces’ comeback. Payne (13 points) drilled two big second-half threes of his own and largely held Pennsbury’s star sniper Addison Howard to just seven points. Darryl Taylor ‘19 added nine points, including two critical three-pointers, and teamed with Matt O’Connor ‘19 to keep Pennsbury’s 6’8 Division 1 signee Mark Flagg in check, limiting the big man to 21 hard-earned points on 18 shots. Forrest added eight points and provided steady post defense against the Falcons’ big front line. And though Fennell (4 points) had just one field goal, it was perhaps the biggest shot of the game -- another signature moment for a senior who has given heart and soul to the LM program. Theo Henry '19, Sean Ryan '17 and Khadafy Bilal '17 also saw action for the Aces.
There is still much to play for, with a final District playoff game on Friday and a state playoff contest on the horizon. But it is worth taking note of how far this team has come and what it has accomplished to date.
When the Aces’ record stood at 4-5 after the holiday break, it might have been warranted to consider this season a rebuilding year, especially for a roster loaded with underclassmen. But the New Year brought new life and the Aces have gone 16-3 ever since, capturing a Central League Championship and winning their 20th game last night. They become the 11th team in Coach Downer’s 27-year career to garner the trifecta of a league title, 20 wins and state playoff berth. They also extend the Aces’ state-playoff streak to seven -- the longest active streak among District 1 6A teams and now the longest in program history.
It has been a remarkable run and it seems fitting that the team will get one more chance to play in front of the home crowd before heading off to States. The Aces return to Bryant Gymnasium on Friday night at 7PM to close out the District Playoffs against Downingtown West.