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Lewis, VFMA top Lower Moreland on 3rd try, advance to BAL final

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LOWER MORELAND >> Francis Bowe knew what the difference was this time against Lower Moreland

“Composure,” the Valley Forge Military Academy boys basketball coach said. “You know what, it was funny, (Arion Lewis) said something when we called a time out and it was a four-point lead, he goes, ‘Guys, we just need to calm down, we’ve been here before,’

“And you could just see, it just went off everyone’s shoulders.”

After two losses to the Lions in the regular season, the Trojans were just steady enough down the stretch to avoid having a win slip away Thursday night in the Bicentennial Athletic League tournament semifinals

Second-seeded Lower Moreland cut a 16-point third-quarter deficit down to two in the game’s final minute but No. 3 VFMA held on and earned a chance to defend its tournament title with a 62-57 victory.

“It was three tough-fought games — they got two, we got one,” Lewis said. “But I’m happy we got the one that really counted and go to the championship.”

Lewis was most of the offense for the visitors in the second half, scoring 17 of the Trojans’ 26 points after the break and finished with game-high 28 points as VFMA (21-4) advances to face No. 5 Dock Mennonite — which upset top-seeded Faith Christian 56-53 in overtime — in the BAL final 1 p.m. Saturday at Morrisville.

“I want to go back-to-back,” Lewis said. “I’m a senior this year. I want our legacy, our senior-class legacy to be champions and winners. So it’s really big for us.

Abraham Deng added 10 points for the Trojans, who won their sixth straight to avenge a pair of defeats to the Lions — first falling 67-62 in overtime on the same court Jan. 10 then losing 71-60 at home Feb. 2.

“We learned from our mistakes, from previous fourth quarters that we had against them,” Lewis said. “So we just stayed calm and just listened to what the coach said, executed perfectly.”

Shane Cohen finished with a team-high 18 points for Lower Moreland (18-7), which had its three-game win streak snapped. Dan Shimon hit a trio of 3-pointers in scoring 11 points while Forrest Keys had 10 points.

“I told our boys we played with great urgency the last 10 or 12 minutes, but the second quarter into the third quarter, we didn’t play bad but we didn’t play urgent,” Lower Moreland coach Seth Baron said. “And that was the difference.”

Valley Forge Military led 50-34 at 2:06 in the third quarter but Lower Moreland proceed to go on a 10-0 run, cutting the margin to 52-44 on Cohen’s three-point play with 6:08 left in the fourth.

“We switched to our half-court zone and made a difference,” Baron said. “They had little trouble with it, got some traps, got some steals. Forrest is real tough at the top of that, so he got some tips and that’s what got us back into the game. It was a good call, one of my assistant coaches said let’s try it and that was a good call.”

Two Lewis free throws had VFMA’s lead at 53-46 at 4:17 before the Lions scored the next six points — a Keys putback after a Cohen steal making it 55-52 with 3:22 left.

Lower Moreland was within three again at 57-54 on a Keys jumper. Lewis drove and found Kobe Reid inside for a layup and a 59-54 lead but Lower Moreland pulled within two at 59-57 with just 47 seconds remaining when Dan Shimon drained a 3-pointer.

“The one thing I said about this team, Lower Moreland is the hardest playing team in the league and I give that to the coaching staff and I give that to the kids,” said Bowe of the Lions. “They had a nice little article on them earlier how they played all fall, all spring — you can see it. They’re not the most athletic team, they just play with a lot of heart and grit but at the same time we didn’t take them lightly.

“We came out here with a game plan. It’s a lot easier when you have someone like (Lewis) to be the general on the floor and I’m just blessed to be able to coach him.”

Lewis was fouled in the back court at 43 seconds, made the first but missed the second to keep it a one-possession game. After a contested shot inside by LM’s Jordan Zoubroulis was off target, Forrest Keys grabbed the offensive rebound and found Shimon, only for his try from three to hit the back of the rim.

“If that game was a minute-and-a-half longer, I think we get it,” Baron said. “But they get credit, they did a nice job, they were poised. Lewis was every bit the top player that he is.”

Lewis came away with the ball and was fouled at 20 seconds. Lewis again hit the first of two from the line, but Zoubroulis’ drive down the lane ended with a block by VFMA’s Ry Ahronson. A Reid free throw at 13 seconds made for final five-point margin.

“Our ultimately goal was to win the league. We got (BAL Independence) co-champions (with Lower Moreland) and I know the boys aren’t happy with that, but we did get that. And our second goal was to win the BAL playoffs, go back-to-back,” Bowe said. “And it is sweet, it is sweeter that you have to go through Lower Moreland — maybe more perfect it playing them in the finals but it doesn’t work that way sometimes. We get the win, we worked hard, we prepared and we’re ready for Souderton.”

Both Lower Moreland and VFMA are high seeds in their respectively District 1/11 tournaments with the Lions No. 2 in the 4A field while the Trojans the top seed in 3A. For Baron, Friday night’s Round 3 between the two should only help each side heading forward into the postseason.

“What more do you want? You’re playing for districts, getting to states and this game’s not getting you prepared for that, what do you want?” he said. “This is a great battle between the two best teams in the BAL.”

A three-point play from Cohen gave the Lions a 17-15 lead with 1:05 to go in the first quarter but Ahronson scored the last four points of the period with jumper before the buzzer giving the Trojans a 19-17 edge.

A dunk by Deng and Quadir Miller jumper gave Valley Forge Military its biggest led of the fist half at 34-27. A Jake Himmelstein 3-pointer made it 34-30 but Reid’s tip-in in the final seconds had the visitors up six at the break.

Lewis provided eight points as Valley Forge Military Academy began the second half with a 14-4 run — a Lewis free throw giving the Trojans a 50-36 lead at 2:06 in the third.

“I just attacked on any openings they game me cause they don’t really give me a lot,” Lewis said. “They clogged the lane in and sagged off a little bit, so I just took what they gave me, capitalized on it.”

A Shimon jumper and two Cohen free throws had Lower Moreland’s deficit down to 50-38 entering the fourth. A Shimon triple made it nine while Cohen’s 3-pointer play on a break getting the Lions within sixth 1:51 into the final quarter.

Notes: Valley Forge Military Academy was without 6-foot-9 senior Marius Ntwari due to an ankle injury…The Trojans matchup with Dock Mennonite in the BAL is the team’s second meeting this season. VFMA beat the Pioneers 47-33 at Dock Jan. 20.

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