WAYNE – While Holy Ghost Prep head coach Tony Chapman saw the change Valley Forge Military Academy made in its second-half defense, there wasn’t a whole lot the longtime Firebirds skipper could do about it – or his team, for that matter.
Playing against a 2-3 zone in the first half, fourth-seeded Holy Ghost (16-9) had staked itself to a 25-18 halftime lead, thanks to nine points each from seniors Aidan Bauer and Mike McFadden, who led all scorers with 24 points in the Bicentennial Athletic League (BAL) Tournament semifinal.
At the half, Trojans head coach Francis Bowe decided to speed the ‘birds up a little, OK, maybe a lot. The defensive measure paid great dividends, helping the home team to a 17-0 scoring run that began on the tail end of the third quarter and extended into the final frame and put Valley Forge on top, 43-32.
The Trojans went on to a 58-44 triumph Thursday night (Feb. 16) at Price Athletic Center that puts them in the tournament final against No. 2 seed Faith Christian, a 59-41 winner over third-seeded Church Farm School in the other semifinal. VFMA takes on the Lions in the BAL Championship 1 p.m. Saturday at Morrisville High School.
“They picked up the pressure and we didn’t handle it,” admitted Chapman. “We made a lot of mistakes, they got into their running game – that’s what they want to play – and we couldn’t keep up.”
Valley Forge senior Myles Bunyon and junior Arion Lewis combined on 25 second-half points for the Trojans, who took a 33-32 lead with two minutes to go in the third period and never looked back.
“At halftime, we went to the locker room we just told ourselves ‘it’s not over,’” said Bunyon. “We wanted to get into a press and speed things up. We thought if we put pressure on them, we could outrun them and get easy layups.”
The point guard, Bunyon hit four shots from the floor, all on driving layups, and scored 11 of his team-high 18 points in the last two periods. Lewis, who hit only one of numerous 3-point shots in the first half, hit another trey in the third period, and added driving layups of his own in each of the last two frames. He also reached the foul line nine times in the second half, making good on seven free throws.
Lewis finished his night with 17 points while junior Abraham Deng added 14 to the Valley Forge scoring effort. Ghost had limited the damage done by the 6-10 center to three field goals and two made free throws in the first half. But the big man from Sudan began the second half with three putback baskets and suddenly, the Trojans were on their way back.
While McFadden hit his second 3-pointer then hit an open layup and sophomore Greg Sylvester added a jumper to keep the Firebirds on top 32-26 midway through the third period, it was right around that time that Valley Forge put the full force of its scoring might on full display.
The Trojans got a driving layup and a trey from Lewis, a pair of layups from Bunyon and a trey by sophomore Rye Ahronson to turn a six-point shortfall into a seven-point lead by the end of the third period.
Valley Forge shot a blazing 8-for-14 from the floor in the third quarter while the ‘birds made just three of 14 third-period attempts.
“Our shot selection in the second half was more rushed than it had to be,” stated Chapman. “We were still in the game at the end of the third quarter. Sometimes, when we’re down 7, 8, or 9 (points), we act like we’re down 18 or 20 (points).
“But when you’re up three, you’re up four, you’re more confident with your shots. When it gets close or you fall behind, you start putting pressure on yourself.”
With Ghost trailing 53-43 with six minutes to go in regulation, Sylvester missed a pair of free throws but got his own rebound after the second misfire, tossed the ball out to McFadden, who hit his third 3-pointer in the game to close the gap to seven.
While Sylvester came up with a steal on the Trojans’ next possession, HGP senior John McCrane missed a layup on the other end. And Bunyon made the birds’ pay, putting a floater into the basket then Ahronson added a layup that extended the VFMA lead back to 11 points with five minutes remaining.
“Once we got the lead, we had the momentum,” stated Bunyon. “We had the home crowd on our side and we were unstoppable, at that point.”
McFadden hit a pair of free throws to close HGP’s deficit to nine but the Trojans made three of their next four shots from the foul line, Lewis hit a layup and VFMA junior Will Colleran added a 3-point play that put the home team on top 55-40.
With less than two minutes remaining and with Bauer and Sylvester sitting on the bench after fouling out, this duel was done.
“We didn’t come out thinking we were gonna start out losing but we played into their system more at the beginning,” explained Bunyon. “Once we got it into our minds that we had to play our style of basketball and speed it up, we just took off from there.”
For its part, Holy Ghost entered the contest on a four-game win streak including a 52-35 triumph over MaST Charter in the BAL quarterfinals just two days earlier at Chapman Gym. McFadden also led the Firebirds in that game, pouring 25 points into the basket including six 3-pointers.
Holy Ghost had nine treys in the quarterfinal playing against the Panthers’ 2-3 zone the entire game. But while MaST never adjusted its first-half defense, Valley Forge did.
Still, Chapman thought his team had chances to break the Trojans’ press.
“We had some opportunities against the press to hit some people under the basket and we didn’t do that,” said Chapman. “The execution left something to be desired but I thought our effort was outstanding.”
From here, Holy Ghost Prep advances to the District 1-Class 5A Tournament where it will open against Central League rival Springfield (DelCo) Feb. 24 at Chapman Gym. The Cougars are 13-9, 9-7 in the CL after a 71-60 win over Radnor Feb. 10 on their home court.
NOTES: Holy Ghost split with VFMA during the regular season, winning by nine points in an early season matchup in Bucks County then coming up 21 points short in a contest that took place last month in Wayne. The Trojans draw players from six different countries including Cyprus, Rwanda, China and Bermuda.
TOP PHOTO: Holy Ghost Prep senior Aidan Bauer (23), left, tries to drive the ball to the basket defended by Valley Forge Military Academy junior Arion Lewis (11) in boys basketball BAL Semifinal Feb. 16 at Price Athletic Center, Wayne, Pa. (Steve Sherman – 21st-Century Media)
Valley Forge Military Academy 58, Holy Ghost Prep 44
(Feb. 16 at VFMA)
Holy Ghost Prep 12 13 7 12 – 44
Valley Forge M.A. 7 11 21 19 – 58
HOLY GHOST PREP (16-9) — Mike McFadden 8 5-7 24, Aidan Bauer 4 0-0 9, Joe Calvin 1 1-2 3, John McCrane 1 0-0 2, Ryan Staropoli 1 0-0 2, Jack Elliott 0 2-2 2, Greg Sylvester 1 0-2 2; TOTALS — 16 8-13 44.
VALLEY FORGE M.A. (21-4) — Myles Bunyon 7 4-6 18, Arion Lewis 4 7-9 17, Abraham Deng 6 2-7 14, Rye Ahronson 2 0-0 5, Will Colleran 1 2-3 4; TOTALS — 20 15-25 58.
3-POINT GOALS: HGP — McFadden 3, Bauer; VFMA — Lewis 2, Ahronson.