UPPER CHICHESTER >> It was a welcome sight after a trying close to the Chichester season: Mike Davie, all 6-8 of him, standing in full uniform in the starting lineup as the No. 8 Eagles got set to play No. 9 Holy Ghost Prep in the District 1 5A Playoffs.
Davie tore his ACL in June and missed the entire campaign. Wednesday was his debut, and he played admirably, scoring 10 points. Alas, Davie’s return wasn’t enough as the Eagles fell, 50-45. The Firebirds will visit No. 1 Penncrest in the quarterfinals Saturday.
Chichester faced an uphill battle from the start. Top-scorer Da’quan Granberry picked up two technical fouls in the regular season finale against Chester and had to serve a one-game suspension. Davie stepped in as best he could.
“Da’quan was out, so I knew we needed another player to come in,” said Davie, a senior. “I went to the doctor’s on Monday to come back and play tonight.”
He was roughly 10 days ahead of schedule.
“We weren’t sure he’d be able to play, because he wasn’t supposed to get cleared until March 1,” said Eagles coach Clyde Jones. “To have the excitement of him getting the opportunity to play when it wasn’t something we expected, we had to start him. He’s a big presence.”
Davie made that presence felt in the second quarter. After Holy Ghost jumped out to a 12-9 lead in the first, Davie found his rhythm. He grabbed three quick buckets to spark Chi’s comeback. Even when he didn’t score, the Firebirds collapsed around him, leaving space for slashers like Amiri Stewart and Calvin Church to cut through the defense. Stewart had four points in the frame, Church three. And when the buzzer sounded for half, the Eagles led 24-22.
“A good boost,” said Church about Davie’s return to action. “It’s more points, more rebounds, more effort.”
But Davie’s advantage in size provided challenges as well. It was always going to be a fast-paced game with Holy Ghost finding success on the perimeter.
“I wanted (Davie) to be effective,” said Jones. “Me and (Firebirds coach) Tony Chapman go way back, so I knew the type of game we’d be forced to play. I tried to play (Davie) as much as I could to get him in the flow offensively.”
The problems were twofold. First, Davie was playing his first meaningful basketball in nearly a year; he couldn’t expect to be at full fitness. Second, the Eagles, with, in Jones’ estimation, their 16th different lineup of the season, had to adjust on the fly in terms of defensive responsibilities. Both issues manifested in a third quarter that saw Holy Ghost get hot from deep. Greg Sylvester knocked down two three’s in the period. Sean Elliott added a triple as well. The Firebirds led 35-32 as the fourth started and wouldn’t trail again.
Josh Smith connected on the Eagles’ first three of the game to open the fourth, but Greg Calvin answered with a layup and a free throw. The Firebirds stretched the lead to as many as eight before dribbling out the clock.
In the end, the three’s made a difference but so too did the hosts’ exuberance. Stewart finished with a game-high 15 points and was relentless on the ball. But he left the game in the fourth quarter after committing a hard foul and suffering a harder fall.
Freshman Josh Hankins had a similar evening, albeit without scoring. He picked Sylvester’s pocket with less than two minutes to go only to see the ball stripped on the other end of the court.
“The game went exactly the way I thought it would go,” said Jones. “ It was going to come down to crucial turnovers and missed layups.”
Too often, Chi (14-9) created the turnovers and missed the layups. And with the Firebirds (15-10) holding a 7-2 advantage in 3-pointers, the Eagles couldn’t make up the difference.
“We won’t feel like this again,” said Church, a junior who scored 10 points. “We’re still coming. We’re going to be back.”
And Davie left one last impression that will serve as inspiration for the underclassmen.
“We’re trying to start something for the young kids,” he said, “to give them a goal to reach every year.”
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