ROYERSFORD >> Not pretty and it didn’t need to be.
For advancing is the only necessity in the district playoffs.
Spring-Ford, led by a quartet of players that scored in double figures, shook off its first-half rust to dispatch No. 24 Avon Grove 59-54 in the opening round of the District 1 Class 6A boys basketball playoffs Friday night at Spring-Ford.
“This time of the year, any time you get a win it’s a good thing,” Spring-Ford head coach Chris Talley said. “We kind of expected to start off slow with a hangover from the (PAC) championship game and having an inservice day. We battled, we made it ugly and we grinded it out.”
Sophomore Noah Baker led the Rams with 16 points with Nestor Diaz and Ryan Fitzpatrick adding 11 and Austin Hokanson 10 points in the victory. The No. 9 Rams (18-7 overall) didn’t hold a lead until the closing seconds of the first half and relied on a dominant defensive showing that yielded 26 turnovers and clutch free throw shooting at the end to emerge with the win.
Spring-Ford, the ninth-seeded team in the district, will travel to face No. 8 Cheltenham (held first-round bye) Tuesday night at 7 p.m. It will be the Rams’ third trip to the second round of the district playoffs in the past four seasons.
“We’re just going to keep moving on,” Baker said. “We need to keep working hard in practice and get ready for our next test at Cheltenham.”
Avon Grove (12-11), meanwhile, sees its season come to an end after posting seven wins combined in the past two seasons. The play of Aldred Russo off the bench was a highlight as the junior finished with 18 points — all coming in the second half. Senior Brandon McCullough was on point from beyond the arc — his 13 points coming from a 50 percent effort from three — with Scooter Whiteside adding 10 points in the losing effort.
It was the first district appearance for the Red Devils in nearly 10 seasons.
“Our seniors (referencing Ali Sar, McCullough, Chase Moyer, Colin Moerman, Karl Forst and Kevin Will) didn’t realize how much they’ve helped build this program,” Avon Grove head coach Roy Blumenthal said.
“We had to build a culture. I had to get the trust of the six seniors who have been through a lot of losses. They bought in first, which helped. The six seniors helped build this up. The expectations were to build this program one brick at a time.”
Avon Grove flirted close to advancing to the second round after a hot start offensively was matched with a Spring-Ford squad that didn’t have many opportunistic bounces at the rim. The Red Devils’ 6-for-8 shooting effort from the floor early was enough to build a 17-9 advantage after the first quarter, but that success was short-lived. Turnovers killed momentum for the Devils, their eight second-quarter turnovers playing a major part in the Rams storming back and taking the lead, Baker’s tough putback giving Spring-Ford a 26-24 lead entering the break.
The cycle repeated itself in the second half as the Red Devils built a 42-35 advantage into the early stages of the fourth only to see the lead dwindle due to upped defensive pressure. The Rams forced four five-second inbound violations in the final 16 minutes — two in the final quarter — and took the lead for good at 50-49 with a Baker putback. A 7-for-8 effort from the free throw line by Diaz in the final minutes helped the team secure the victory.
“Forcing the five-second violations and the turnovers was a huge deal,” Baker said. “We had an opportunity to win because of our defensive pressure.”
“We knew all they did was run a lot of set plays. We just had to press them and make them uncomfortable,” Diaz said. “Going forward, if we get a lead, we need to keep it. We just need to keep working hard.”
“It’s (turnovers) been our Achilles heel all season,” Blumenthal said. “We have not had our starting five on the floor all season because of injuries. I’m disappointed for the kids for that. Karl Forst was hurt tonight, our captain and he’s the guy that guides us defensively and is the middle of the offense. The turnovers hurt us tonight, but it’s hurt us all season. It’s a matter of us growing from this.”