MALVERN >> In order to take a step forward Friday night, Episcopal Academy senior Conner Delaney first needed to take a step back.
A step back in time, that is.
“I wasn’t having too much fun early on and it showed,” he said. “Once I got things going, it felt like I was playing eighth grade basketball again.”
The Johns Hopkins University commit went on a 15-point surge during the fourth quarter and eventually sealed it in overtime at the free-throw line during Episcopal Academy’s 59-58 win over the Hill School in the semifinal round of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) playoffs.
Delaney scored 18 of the No. 3 seeded Churchmens’ final 21 points, kick-starting it with a 3-pointer two minutes into the fourth quarter. Even with the Hill defense selling out to put a hand on him, Delaney was locked in from all over the court. He’d finish with a game-high 25 points, that after going scoreless through the first quarter.
“That first 3-pointer went down and I knew I was back on track,” he said. “I got hot at the right time. Coach (Craig Conlin) said I was controlling the game and I think that helped keep me in it.”
With the win, Episcopal sets up a championship matchup with top-seeded Westtown — a 71-53 winner over Germantown Academy — on Saturday night back at Malvern Prep at 8 p.m.
Second-seeded Hill never went away quietly. After trading buckets throughout the final frame, junior Chase Audige knocked down a 3-pointer from the right corner with 4.9 seconds remaining to push the game to overtime at 54-54. Audige finished with a team-high 21 points including an impressive 8-for-9 showing at the free-throw line while Ethan Norton finished with eight points — sparking what was an electric game with a right-handed dunk right off the opening tip.
The difference in the game, for Hill head coach Seth Eilberg, was controlling the possessions. The Blues committed two technical fouls which wound up costing them three points at the free-throw line and a loss of two possessions during the third quarter.
“We’ve got to control our emotions better,” said Eilberg. “We haven’t had two technicals all season, and tonight we had two in the same quarter. That can’t happen, especially not in a game like this.”
Alongside Audige and Norton, Xavier Mayo scored 10 points to go along with another eight from Colton Lawrence.
“I was really proud of how our guys stayed together and made plays,” added Eilberg. “We executed and stayed in the game right until the end.”
Moments after Delaney knocked down one of two free throw attempts to take a one-point lead late in the overtime period, The Hill got the ball with four seconds on the clock. Lawrence took possession just past midcourt where he heaved up a prayer that had the trajectory but came up just short before the Episcopal bench erupted.
“This game says a lot about our seniors,” said Colin of Episcopal. “They’ve been through battles like this one before. We really relied on our five seniors and they didn’t let us down. We get to play another day.”