EAST WHITELAND >> As the throng of Great Valley students poured from the stands at the final buzzer and surrounded their victorious schoolmates, one final, simple chant engulfed the circle of jumping, happy teenagers.
It signified the obvious, that the Patriots will head into Philadelphia for the District 1 Class 5A boys basketball semifinals Wednesday night.
Second-seeded Great Valley snapped a tie with under two minutes to go, while scoring four of the game’s last points, to outlast No. 10 Springfield (Delco), 41-38. The Patriots head to the Liacouras Center to face No. 3 Penncrest in the first semifinal on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Springfield falls into the consolation round with a chance to make the PIAA tournament still in the offing.
“It feels great to be going to Temple knowing that we played most of our season without Alex Capitano (who missed significant time due to a broken hand),” said Nate Graeff. “We came together as a team. Team ball pays off.”
Great Valley (18-6) came up with some key defensive stops in the fourth quarter, holding the Cougars (14-11) without a field goal for the final four minutes, 57 seconds of the game. They took lead for good on a perfectly executed backdoor layup by Capitano with 1:42 left.
The Patriots held a tenuous 28-27 lead after three quarters, which they quickly extended to three on a Capitano basket. They held the advantage at 35-31 with 5:07 left following a 3-point basket by Gavin Frankenheimer. Ja’Den McKenzie quickly silenced the home crowd by rebounding a missed shot for the bucket and the foul. The resultant free throw made it 35-34 with under five minutes to play. What nobody in the gym would know at the time would be that was the last basket for Springfield.
“We played it right,” Graeff said in amazement when told about the feat. “They’re a well-rounded team with a lot of guys eho can score, so to hold them without a basket for that long is incredible.”
Graeff would drive the lane aggressively to score on a left-handed layup. Jordan Collins would hit three free throws in two possessions to tie the game at 37-37 with 2:34 remaining.
The Patriots’ defense came up huge again as McKenzie was whistled for a charging call to give ball back to the Pats. They worked a perfect backdoor cut as Capitano sailed in for a layup and a 39-37 lead with 1:42 left.
Following a missed three-pointer from Kyle Long, Graeff drove the lane for another bucket — this time, what proved to be the clincher — to bump the lead to 41-37.
“It’s just an instinct,” added Graeff, who finished with nine points. “My coaches always tell me to turn, face, and attack the basket. That’s my first instinct to it.”
Springfield missed its final five shots from the floor, going a miserable 3-of-13 in the final frame.
“We got good looks,” said Springfield coach Kevin McCormick. “We missed too many layups, too many foul shots. Just one of those nights.”
Great Valley was sloppy starting the game, turning the ball over five times in the first quarter as the Cougars took a 10-7 lead after one. They continued to make things difficult for the Pats, building an 18-10 lead after Long made a 3-pointer with 3:29 left. Capitano notched four of the final six Great Valley points in the half, and Springfield went into the break up, 21-16.
“Paul does a great job with that group,” said McCormick, “They did what they had to do. They hung tough. We made a run at them in the first half and couldn’t put them away. They didn’t fold. All credit to them.”
Liam Ward hit a pair of crucial of three-pointers early in the third quarter as the Pats kept it close. Robert Geiss scored on a follow to put Great Valley up 26-24 with 2:48 left, its first lead since it was 2-1, early in the first quarter.
Geiss also contributed defensively as he held Alex DeAngelis to just one basket for the game.
Capitano led all scorers with 15 points. Collins paced the Cougars with nine.
The satisfaction and and amazement of making the district semifinals was etched on the face of elated Great Valley coach Paul Girone after the game.
“This is incredible,” he said. “To be going to Temple is an incredible testament to these kids. They just played as a team all year and just kept working hard.”
Great Valley 41, Springfield (Delco) 38
Springfield (Delco): Long 3 0-0 8, Collins 2 4-6 9, DeAngelis 1 0-0 2, Sullivan 2 1-2 5, Orjih 1 4-6 6, McKenzie 1 2-3 4, Webb 2 0-0 4, Chevalier 0 0-0 0. Totals: 12 11-17 38.
Great Valley: Geiss 3 0-0 6, Ward 2 0-0 6, Frankenheimer 1 0-0 3, Graeff 4 1-2 9, Capitano 6 2-3 15, Porreca 1 0-0 2, Long 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 3-5 41.
Springfield (Delco) 10 11 6 11 – 38
Great Valley 7 9 12 13 – 41
3-point goals: Long 2, Collins, Ward 2, Frankenheimer, Capitano.