CHESTER >> Chester High coach Larry Yarbray wasn’t in the mood to talk about reaching the 20-win mark for the seventh time in the last nine seasons following a 48-45 triumph over Springfield Friday night.
Not after the Clippers blew almost all of a 16-point halftime lead by going scoreless in the third quarter. Preliminarily, the Clippers haven’t been blanked in a quarter in at least 26 years, and possibly longer, according to a statistician who obviously didn’t have those scoresheets handy.
Whether the Clippers are playing for fifth-place in the District 1 Class 5A playoffs, which was the case with the Cougars, or the district championship, a goose egg for Chester High is unbearable.
“We scored zero points and the defensive intensity was flat,” Yarbray said. “But we get a chance to play next Friday in the states. So that’s the positive thought in my brain. And we’ve got a week to get there. A win’s a win right now. But we’ve got to want it more.”
The next chance the Clippers (20-6) get to show they can play four full quarters of basketball is against Milton Hershey, the third seed in District 3.
It’s hard to believe Milton Hershey has the perimeter shooting stroke of Springfield (15-11), which plays the winner of the District 2 title game between Abington Heights and West Scranton.
The Cougars made 11 three-point shots, including four in that infamous third quarter to slice a 32-16 halftime lead to just four points entering the final frame.
Kyle Long, who made two of his four threes in the quarter, wasn’t at all surprised by the comeback as the Cougars rallied from 14 points down to beat Wissahickon a few nights ago.
“We played a pretty bad first half,” Long said. “We didn’t run much offense against (Chester). I think in the third quarter we decided we were going to get our shot and not let their tempo dictate the game. And then they missed shots. When they miss shots, it helps our offense. And we played better defense on and off the ball, kept them to no second shots and that’s what got us back in the game.”
When Justin Collins got the Cougars within two points with a floater to open the scoring in the final frame, Clippers fans became extremely restless.
There was a chorus of ‘thank you’s’ when Jah’meir Springfield broke the ice with a free throw, and another when Yarbray’s son Larry, who had eight points, scored on a driving layup.
Springfield, the guard, basically bailed the Clippers out in a time of need as he attacked the basket to dish the ball off to big man Jordan Camper for a gusto dunk.
Thanks to Springfield’s energy, the Cougars didn’t get closer than five points until Collins made a three-pointer with .5 left. Actually, the horn sounded and the officials put .5 of a second back on the clock with the Clippers only having to inbound before the horn.
“I just wanted to get the ball to the rack because the shots weren’t falling,” said Springfield, who made three of four free throw attempts in the fourth quarter. “I just wanted to try something different, to get some free throws and get some momentum by playing defense. We were struggling in that third quarter. I just think we got up by 16 so we thought, you know, they were going to lay down. They came out and we weren’t prepared and they turned it on. We turned it on at the end. We did what we had to do to get the W.”
The Clippers also got a solid hustle game from point guard Michael Smith, who scored seven points and grabbed a career-high seven boards.
The Cougars led twice, early in the first quarter, thanks to their three-point shooting. The Clippers took the open looks away in the second quarter and in the third, came out defending the three-point line. When the Cougars attacked the basket in the quarter, challenging the 6-8 Camper, who rejected three shots, the Clippers collapsing defense enabled the opposition to kick the ball out to the shooters.
“It’s tough to lose any game,” Long said. “I think we’re going to look back and say we had a chance to beat one of the greatest basketball programs in one of the greatest high school gyms in the PIAA and we didn’t get a win. Hopefully we can get a win next week in states.”