has a longstanding love affair with the PAC-10 boy's basketball Championship game. Appearing--and losing--four out of the last five seasons, year after year the Rams return, like the unfortunate star of some Lifetime movie. Despite the heartbreak, including a loss to neighbor last year, the Rams found themselves once more head over heels, this time on their own floor. And again, like jilted lovers, they came up just short on the cruelest of dates.
As with any doomed romance, the game had its highs and lows, before careening to a sudden ending and tears. A runner from Methacton's Brendan Casper with a little over eight ticks left on the clock finally sealed a tightly contested game for the Warriors, and spelled one more year of pain for Spring-Ford head coach Mike Young's five.
While it is often said opposites attract, one would be hard pressed to find two more evenly matched teams in a championship game. So similar were the styles, the contest seemed more akin to shadowboxing than a title bout. Both schools started slowly, grinding on defense and feeling each other out in their third meeting, before slowly building a head of steam into an exciting second half.
Both the Rams and Warriors sought to penetrate then kick out for open looks, while both locked down the low post for the first two quarters. Methacton, powered by Casper and Geoff Wittenberg inside, held the slight edge, scoring 10 points in the paint to the Ram's eight. The Warriors also capitalized on turnovers, tallying 11 points off of 10 Ram giveaways.
With both squads so evenly matched, defense and rebounding took on new precedent. The Warriors effectively shut down junior center Zameer McDowell (13 points, 11 rebounds) in the opening half, limiting the big man to only a pair of points and four rebounds.
"I think between their team and our team, we have the two best front lines in the league," Young said. "With them with Wittenberg, Casper and whoever else they put out there--Forrest or McKee … they're just big guys inside, and they can match his size and strength."
Nature abhors a vacuum, and and stepped in to fill the void. Dishman (18 points, four assists) went four-for-four from behind the arc in the first half, hitting timely shots to prevent Methacton from opening up too large of a lead. Not content with simply scoring, Dishman played opportunistic on defense, with three of his team high four steals coming in the first two frames.
"Dishman really shot the ball well," Young said. "And we were obviously looking to get him the ball, coming off screens. They were all over him because they knew they needed to get on him, but we did a good job of springing him open for those threes and he certainly stepped up and knocked them down."
Keefe (18 points, two assists) added 13 points and a steal of his own as the pair carried Spring-Ford to a narrow halftime lead. Despite the near disappearance of McDowell, the Rams found themselves ahead 34-30 at the intermission.
Both teams sought to go inside to start the second half. The game quickly turned ugly on the block, with the Warriors pounding the rock inside to Wittenberg and drawing crucial fouls. McDowell answered the bell, tightening up on Methacton's inside tandem and coming alive on the offensive end. The center drove hard to the basket and crashed the boards, finally taking control of his home point as the third wound down. With possessions at a premium, two heads up plays at the end of the quarter made sure Spring-Ford had as many opportunities as possible.
Diving toward the baseline on a rebound, McDowell reached over his opponent's shoulder to bat the ball into the helpless Warrior, ensuring a Rams inbounds under the basket. With mere seconds left he forced the possession arrow, causing Methacton to reset their offense.
Despite McDowell's resurgence, a flurry of 3-pointers managed to put Methacton ahead by a point entering the final frame.
Over a thousand raucous fans--with the students split seemingly 50-50 for both sides--electrified a tense fourth quarter, roaring with approval at any aspect of the game. The Rams pulled ahead on a 3-pointer from Dishman and one free throw each from Keefe and before Casper put the Warriors on his back.
Breaking down the perimeter defense, the forward split two defenders for a layup to cut the lead to one with under three minutes to play. Casper put the Warriors ahead at the 2:10 mark, before Spring-Ford found an answer with a crucial McDowell put back with the continuation. McDowell converted the old school three point play to put the Rams back up 57-55 , then began snapping down key defensive rebounds in an effort to protect the lead.
Casper closed the gap to one from the line with 19.7 seconds left in regulation. Two missed free throws by Rams forward Daryl Branch gave Methacton the ball with eight seconds, and hope, left. Casper drilled a runner from mid-range for the lead, and after one final, sputtering Spring-Ford offensive possession, the win.
"He's one of the best players in the league, and he made a nice move," Young said of Casper. "He made a tough shot; I thought we contested the shot, it was a tough shot. There was nothing wrong with our defense on that play … he can shoot it from outside, and he's just crafty. He has nice little head and shoulder fakes, he can dribble to the basket too. If you get up on him, he's quick, he goes by you, and if you back off of him, he buries it in your face."
The mourning period must end quickly for Young's Rams. They visit Penn Wood in the opening round of the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs Friday. Young believes his team will be able to rise to the challenge.
"We've only got two days to prepare for a good Penn Wood team, who's always a district power," Young said. "We're just going to do our best to get ready."
Despite another championship loss, Young did not sound like a man who had just had his--and his team's--heart broken.
"I'm proud of our effort, especially after the first half when they went up by eight at one point. We handled that adversity and came back … I don't think we lost the game, I think they won it," Young said. "We always say sports is like,you learn lessons for life, and we told them, in your life, everything is not always going to go the way you want it to or the way you think it should. It certainly didn't happen tonight. It wasn't our year again once again, but that's something we're just going to have to deal with and go forward. But the effort was great. I thought we played well … it was a great championship game."