TREDDYFRIN -- The third time was the charm Friday night for the Conestoga boys basketball team at a jam-packed Conestoga High School Gymnasium. After losing to defending PIAA Class AAAA champion, Lower Merion twice this season, the Pioneers turned the tables on their Central League for in the quarterfinal round of the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs.
Conestoga put four players in double-figures and outfought the Aces for loose balls and on the defensive glass as they advanced to Tuesday night's District 1 Final Four at the Liacorus Center at Temple University with a 68-60 triumph. The district's top seed will play No. 5 at 7:30 p.m.
Zack Yonda, who shared team scoring honros with Martin Dorsey with 14 points each for the Pioneers (23-4), is looking ahead to playing at Temple."I really am looking forward to playing down there,' Yonda said. "I don't know what it is going to be like because I have not played there, but to play on the biggest floor we have ever played on is exciting.'
Exciting is just one word to describe Friday's action before a raucous crowd. Conestoga penetrated the Lower Merion (20-7) zone defense early in the game, beating them off the dribble and making precise interior passes. Point guard Darryl Caldwell had seven assists on the night and in the first half, he hit Dan Vial and Yonda and Dorsey for easy layups. Conestoga took a 37-33 halftime lead on 14-for-23 (61 percent) shooting from the field. They ended up 23-39 (59 percent) for the game.
"That shot by Darryl was huge for us,' Conestoga coach Mike Troy said. "If you let Lower Merion get a lead they go into their four corners and it makes things tough on you. To have these kids go to Temple is a credit to their work ethic and all the effort they have put into this team. Tonight, the kids get all the credit for executing the game plan and taking care of business.'
Conestoga took no time at all getting going in the fourth. Caldwell drove to the basket to make it 50-48. Then, Yonda took a feed from James Vanderventer to make it 52-47. With Lower Merion going cold from the floor, you could feel it was Conestoga's night. Lower Merion, which was 1-for-11 at one point in the fourth, shot 6-for20 in the stanza.Conestoga kept the pressure on when Yonda hit Dorsey on a backdoor play for a 54-47 lead with just over four minutes to play. The Aces continued to miss until Nick Jones, who led Lower Merion with 17 points, hit a three to close the gap to 54-50 with 3:55 to play.
After Yonda missed on a jumper, Jaquan Johnson went strong to the hole for a layup to close to 54-52. But, that was it for the Lower Merion offense for the next two-plus minutes. Yonda and Vanderventer were made to free throws each to bump the advantage to 58-52 with 2:45 left.
Then, Lower Merion's star center Justin McFadden, who had 14 points and seven rebounds, was whistled for his fifth foul and had to leave. Yonda drove the baseline and scored, sending the crowd into hysterics and the giant monkey named Lower Merion was finally off the Pioneers backs."I knew we needed a momentum push when they took the lead,' Caldwell said. "So, I decided to take the shot and it went in. We got the lead back and they could not play their four-corner offense.'
The Conestoga fans rushed the court after the game in a wild celebration and Troy was as eaqually happy with the his team played."Both teams went back and forth at each other and our kids did not quit,' Troy said. "They deserve to be going to Temple because of all the hard work they put in.'
Conestoga 68, Lower Merion 60
LOWER MERION: Jones 7 0-0 17, McFadden 4 4-4 14, Johnson 3 3-4 9, Sherman 2 0-0 4, Brown 3 2-2 8, Pendleton 3 2-2 8. Totals 22 11-12 60.
CONESTOGA: Yonda 5 3-4 14, Caldwell 3 2-2 11, Vila 6 2-2 14, Dorsey 7 0-0 14, Diehl 2 5-9 9, Vanderventer 0 6-6 6, Utter 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 16-23 68.Lower Merion 15 18 14 13-60
Conestoga 22 15 11 20-68
3-point goals: Jones 3, McFadden 2, Caldwell 3, Yonda.