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Lower Merion gives Aces Nation one last hurrah at States

Marple Township >> While the Lower Merion boys’ basketball team lost to defending state champion Roman Catholic, 74-55, in the second round of the PIAA 6A state tournament at Cardinal O’Hara March 13, the Aces gave their fans one last hurrah with 1:08 to play.
With 1:08 remaining, Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer called time-out before having his players turn and face the LM faithful so they could give the Aces (25-4) one final round of applause. It was a season filled with many highlights, including an undefeated Central League campaign and Lower Merion’s ninth consecutive trip to States – the longest current streak in District 1 6A boys basketball.
”I thought the whole team deserved a curtain call,” said Downer. “The community respects all that we have given them and we really, really appreciate their support but we just came up on short end of stick. I wanted the community and the kids to have a moment. We are proud of the community and I think they are proud of us. We gave them 29 entertaining games this year.”
”He knows how much we care about the fan base and how much the fan base cares about us,” said Lower Merion senior Jack Forrest, who finished with 23 points.
“It’s an emotional relationship developed over last four years so to conclude our journey over last four years is nice.”
With 1:30 to play, Downer took out his two 1,000-point scoring seniors, Forrest and Steve Payne, for a final curtain call.
”Words can’t describe what happened in the final 1:30,” said Payne. “It’s so emotional. I love Coach Downer. He has done so much for us, that words can’t describe it. I want to thank all the parents who came out and supported us. I’m happy I got to spend this time with special group of guys.”
”That meant everything,” said Forrest. “Our fan base has grown over the past four years and have gotten a big following so for them to see us (Payne and myself) check out of a game for the last time is pretty emotional.”
Lower Merion fell behind 17-4 to start the game but climbed back to within 26-18 with 4:44 remaining in the second quarter, thanks in large part to Payne, Forrest and fellow senior Julian Hairston, who buried two big three-pointers. Unfortunately that was the closest the Aces got, as Roman stretched the lead to 42-22 at halftime.
“I’m proud of the way our players never gave up,” said Downer. “When you get a Lower Merion jersey you are in a position to compete and the jersey is a special jersey. We were down 20 at halftime and we talked about playing every second on the clock and playing the full 32 minutes and honoring the jersey and never giving up.
“We talked about cutting 20 to 10 or 20 to 16. We were never going to give up, but at the end of the day, those alley-oops above the rim to a mere freshman in my estimation are pretty much unstoppable.”
On March 10, the Aces opened the PIAA 6A state tournament with a 62-44 win against East Stroudsburg South at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School. Payne led the Aces scoring with 24 points.
Downer noted, “[Senior guard] Matt O’Connor also played well, and [senior guard] Darryl Taylor’s defense was important. The biggest keys for us were toughness and attention to the game plan.”




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