EXTON >> The way the game started and ended for that matter, it was hard to believe that fourth-seeded Bristol actually beat top seed Church Farm by six points earlier in the season.
The defending District 1-Class AA champion Griffens (17-9) led from start to finish in a 24-point romp over the visiting Warriors, sending the home team to the D-1 title tilt against second-seeded Christopher Dock Saturday, March 4 at Council Rock South.
Church Farm canned 11-of-14 shots from the floor in the first quarter including three 3-pointers to take a 26-11 lead into the second period. That’s a 78.5 percent shooting clip.
“They shot the ball lights out,” said Bristol head coach Matt Gasper. “We knew going in number 34 and 35 – we knew they were their shooters. Combined, they probably had 10 threes.”
Number 34 and 35, respectively, are Church Farm senior guard Augustas Veniukevicius and senior forward Faustas Kulbickas. The two bombers from Lithuania combined for seven treys in the battle including five in the first two periods, helping the Griffens to a 39-26 halftime lead.
Veniukevicius led all scorers in the game with 16 points while Kulbickas came through for the home team with 15 on five shots made from behind the 3-point arch.
“That’s what they do – Faustus and Augustus – the best shooters I ever played with,” said Church Farm senior James Lawton. “If I kick it to them, I know they’ll knock it down, no doubt in my mind.”
The Warriors (10-14) outpaced the Griffens in the second period but by then, had already dug themselves into a huge hole. Church Farm forced seven turnovers in the first period in getting out to that huge lead.
“The last couple of games, we lost sight of what we really do – we’re a defensive team,” said Lawton. “It was important that we came in today and execute our defense. We like to get after people, we like to pressure people and we like to make people make choices with the ball.”
Lawton was on the court two years ago when Bristol stunned the Griffens by coming back from a 15-point deficit with four minutes to go in regulation to win their second consecutive D-1 Class AA title in overtime
There would be no coming back for Bristol in this one. Not when the opponent shoots 73 percent in the first half while the Warriors turned in a 41 percent success rate in the first two periods.
Trailing by 13 points entering the final frame, turnovers continued to be a problem for Bristol as the Warriors let the ball loose four times in the first four minutes of the last period and shot just 3-for-16 in the fourth quarter.
“We tried to do too much to get back into it,” admitted Gasper. “I kept telling them ‘you can’t get all those points back in one possession. You gotta score and get a stop, score and get a stop.’
“We were trying to get 15 points back in 30 seconds and we rushed too much.”
Bristol tied to slow the game down with intentional fouls in the fourth quarter, which wasn’t a bad strategy considering the fact that their opponent shot less than 50 percent (18-for-37) from the foul line. An unfortunate circumstance of that however was that senior Parker Kelley, who led the Warriors with 15 points, fouled out with 3:11 to go in the contest.
“Parker is a great player; he goes 120 percent all the time,” said Gasper. “He was dying, he was gasping. He knew this was it. He fought through everything he could.
“I’m proud of him and the way he plays.”
Surprisingly, Bristol senior Ronnie Garrison was held off the scoreboard entirely, though to be fair, he was playing against sophomore John Bol Ajak, a 6-10 giant who is there in the paint to defend the low post.
“His senior year, his last game, it was tough to go out the way he did,” said Gasper. “He played hard like he always does but he was going against that big kid in the middle and it’s hard to shoot over him.
“He was settling for threes a lot instead of getting to the rim like he usually does.
“But when you go from 12, 15 points to zero, that hurts us on the scoreboard.”
For Bristol, it was a disappointing ending to a season that once held so much promise. While the Warriors started off strong this season, they stumbled to the finish line, needing a 55-36 victory over Collegium Charter just to get into districts.
In the Bicentennial Athletic League (BAL) Tournament, Bristol lost in the first round, falling 65-39 to MaST Charter.
“It’s been an up and down season,” admitted Gasper. “We played well against the good teams but I think the bad teams that we should have beat, we kind of played down to them.
“We lost five in a row at the end to go to a four seed playing against one of the better teams in the state and they made us pay for it.”
Church Farm has made it to the PIAA tournament five of the past six years, making quarterfinal runs in 2012 and 2014, but has yet to make it to Hershey for a chance to win a state title.
The Griffens started the postseason with BAL Tournament wins over Phil-Mont Christian and Lower Moreland but lost in the semifinals to BAL runner-up Faith Christian.
Church Farm School , Bristol
(Feb. 24 at CFS)
Church Farm 26 13 12 20 – 71
Bristol 11 15 12 9 – 47
CHURCH FARM (17-9) — Najeh Mahama 2, Augustus Veniukevius 16, Roman Solano 1, Abdul Ogunsanga 4, James Lawton 9, David Larue 1, Faustas Kulbickas 15, Junior Gyanfi 1, Naseem Bryant 8, John Bol Ajak 14; TOTALS — 18 8-11 47.
BRISTOL (10-14) — Jarvis Zyvonoski 2, Parker Kelly 15, Carter Kelly 7, Austin Funair 5, Dayeshawn Cortez 13, Samir Brisbon 5; TOTALS — 23 18-37 71.
3-POINT GOALS: CFS — Veniukevius 2, Kulbickas 5; B — Brisbon, Funair, Parker Kelley