BETHLEHEM >> Chester High coach Larry Yarbray probably can count on one hand the games where his guys “played like Clippers” yet lost.
One of the heartbreakers was Sunday.
The Clippers bounced back from a couple of double-digit deficits but ran out of plays in the second overtime against Abington Heights, which rode the hot hand of scorer Jackson Danzig to a 65-61 victory in the PIAA Class 5A quarterfinal at Bethlehem’s Liberty High.
Danzig scored 18 of the Comets’ 22 points in the overtimes against a variety of defenders. The 30-point performance was so off-the-charts that Clippers fans waiting for their team paid their respects to the senior when he walked by. Danzig has totaled 55 points the last two games for the Comets.
“It was a heck of a game to watch,” Yarbray said. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t come out on the other side. But the kids played hard. They did everything we asked them to do. It just came down to making plays and (Abington Heights) made plays at the right time while we couldn’t come up with the loose ball or the rebound. They hit a couple shots to put the pressure back on us. And they made a couple foul shots at the end.”
Seniors Ahrod Carter, Jamar Sudan and Jordan Camper gave the Clippers a chance to win late in regulation. Carter buried two of his six 3-pointers in the frame while Sudan worked the low post for seven points to knot the game at 41. With 42.4 ticks left, Camper tapped in a miss to give the Clippers their first lead.
But, well, you know who converted a reverse layup just before the buzzer to force the first extra session. Danzig had four points in the frame for Comets, who downshifted into a clock-killing mode, only to be unable to finish around the basket.
The Clippers never trailed in the second overtime. Carter got them started with a 3-pointer and Michael Smith canned two straight shots from beyond the arc. Sudan’s free throw with 1:04 to go staked the Clipper to a five-point lead, their largest of the game.
Sudan’s miss on the back end of the two-shot opportunity and then on the front end of a one-and-one enabled Danzig to tie the score and send the game into another overtime.
“The first overtime, we had a rhythm,” said Carter, who scored a team-high 23 points. “We hit shots, they hit shots. I thought we were going to win it. But then we got to the second overtime and they hit more shots, and we just couldn’t get the job done.”
Danzig got two baskets to give the Comets a quick four-point lead in the second overtime. However Carter answered with a trey and Sudan drew the fourth personal on 7-foot Comets center Seth Maxwell, who scored all but four of his 18 points in the first three quarters.
Sudan made both free throws to shave the Comets’ lead to one point. Three straight makes at the foul line by Carter, hacked while attempting a three-pointer, and a lot of hustle weren’t enough to put the Clippers over the top.
“We were very close, really a couple plays away from Hershey, actually,” Sudan said. “I’m really proud of my own guys and the rest of my seniors. I’ll remember my coaches and most definitely my teammates because this year we really were brothers. Last year we weren’t. But this year we were brothers. We came together.”
Clippers fans will keep an eye on Danzig and Maxwell, the big guy who showed a solid low-post game and surprisingly good feet. It was one of those games that left you thinking what if, as in what would have happened if Camper had come out in the first half denying Maxwell the ball, or if the Clippers had attacked the basket to get him in foul trouble sooner. The Comets played just five guys.
Then again, Danzig was all but unstoppable. Coach Yarbray in his prime as a defender would have had a difficult time holding him down.
“I was just taking what was given to me,” Danzig said. “I was just playing in a rhythm. I was feeling good so I just kept on shooting. It was a great win. Chester has a great history. They won the state title eight times in their past. We knew they had a really great team so we just come out and tried to execute our stuff and just play our hardest.”
Speaking of playing hard, the Clippers earned a place in Yarbray’s heart with the fight they showed in their comeback. That took the edge off failing to reach the semifinal round in their last two trips to the state tournament.
“We played like Clippers so I can’t even be mad,” Yarbray said. “We left it all on the court. The seniors, they worked hard from Day 1. You look at a guy like Sudan, as a freshman he outworked some of my seniors, and he would always give you 120 percent no matter what. Him, Ahrod, Jordan, my son (Larry Jr.), Tyrel (Lennen) and a couple other guys in there. They left it on the court every day. And we evolved as a team. A lot of people counted us out early but we made another great run. That’s all I can ask.”
Abington Heights 65, Chester 61
Abington Heights: Tinsley 5 0-0 11, Rothenberger 0 0-0 0, Danzig 11 3-4 30, Koehler 2 2-2 6, Maxwell 9 0-2 18; Totals: 27 5-8 65.
Chester: Smith 3 1-2 9, Yarbray Jr. 1 0-0 3, Carter 7 3-3 23, Springfield 0 0-0 0, Evans 0 0-0 0, Randolph III 0 0-0 0, Sudan 6 7-12 19, Camper 3 1-3 7; Totals: 20 12-20 61.
Abington Heights 10 19 6 8 10 12 — 65
Chester 6 12 10 15 10 8 — 61
3-point goals: Tinsley, Danzig 5, Smith 2, Yarbray Jr., Carter 6; Fouled out: None; Total fouls: Abington Heights 14, Chester 15; Technical fouls: None.