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Klevan, Lower Merion bury Garnet Valley

NEWTOWN SQUARE >> At halftime of a tied Central League semifinal against Lower Merion Sunday, it was a good sign for Garnet Valley that Austin Laughlin was just the Jaguars’ third-leading scorer.

The drought of 13 minutes to begin the second half in which three of the Jags’ starters were held off the scoreboard was less fortuitous. And the fact that the dry spell coincided with a star turn from a somewhat unlikely figure in the Aces’ ranks made that futility too much for the Jaguars to overcome.

Garnet Valley’s Austin Laughlin goes up for a shot in the fourth quarter against Lower Merion Sunday in the Central League semifinals at Marple Newtown. Lower Merion won, 72-59. (Mikey Reeves/For Digital First Media)

Lower Merion’s Harrison Klevan stole the show with 16 points, including a decisive outburst of three consecutive 3-pointers to turn a tight game into a comfortable 72-59 win Sunday at Marple Newtown High School.

The victory sends the No. 2 seed Lower Merion into the Central League title game for the second consecutive season, where it’ll tangle with top seed Penncrest Tuesday night at 8 p.m. at Harriton.

Klevan hit four 3-pointers on an afternoon where the Aces’ other shooters were uncharacteristically chilly. Jack Forrest tallied a game-high 22 points but was just 2-for-5 from 3-point land. Steve Payne scored eight first-quarter points … then was silent offensively until the fourth, going 0-for-4 beyond the arc.

The struggles owed in part to Garnet Valley’s ability to close out on the prime targets of their scouting report. But further down the list of options, the defensive attention waned, and Klevan feasted.

“Jack and Steve are unbelievable,” Klevan said. “They’re the workhorses for our team. If we were getting a scouting report on our own team, Steve and Jack would be at the top of the list. I think they get the most attention, so we just have to be ready whenever we get a chance.”

Klevan certainly was. At 46-43 late in the third and Garnet Valley hanging tight despite the offense going into a lull after a rip-roaring first half, Klevan hit his three consecutive triples. The first was set up by a Darryl Taylor steal and assisted by Payne. Taylor cleaned up a GV miss and hit Klevan in transition the next time down. Then the quarter closed with Forrest rebounding a Payne miss and shoveling to Klevan on the right wing to hit nothing but net as time expired.

“I just was feeling it and I kept shooting with confidence,” Klevan said. “I missed a couple early, but I saw open looks and I wasn’t going to pass those up.”

“We focused on Forrest, Payne. They’re the main guys,” Laughlin said. “They drive and kick, have a lot of shooters and spread the floor. When they drive, they always have spot-up shooters in the corners, and that’s tough to get out on.”

The Aces (19-4) won the third quarter by a 21-9 margin and led 55-43 to start the fourth. The Jags didn’t whittle the spread back to single-digits the rest of the way.

Where Klevan blossomed, the ancillary options for Garnet Valley (16-7) shrunk after the break in its first ever Central League semifinal. The third seed entered halftime with Laughlin having scored eight points, trailing Cole Palis and Cade Brennan in that department (nine each). But those sources of offense evaporated.

Lower Merion’s Steve Payne drive past Garnet Valley’s Cade Brennan toward the basket during Sunday’s Central League semifinal game at Marple Newtown. Lower Merion won, 72-59. (Mikey Reeves/For Digital First Media)

Palis didn’t attempt a field goal in the second half. Greg Vlassopoulos scored four points in the second quarter but was otherwise shut out. Connor O’Brien was the only starter beyond Brennan and Laughlin to score in the second half with seven fourth-quarter points. It was too little, too late, though it did give the senior guard 11 for the game, breaking a cold snap of three straight games without scoring in double-figures for a player who had started the season with 19 straight double-digit outputs.

“We just weren’t making shots. We started to force stuff and kind of rush it a little bit,” Brennan said. “They had a stretch there where they had three or four straight 3s. That’s really tough to play against, and when we’re not making shots, it’s really tough.”

Brennan, whose buzzer-beating 3-pointer got the Jags past Conestoga in the regular-season finale to earn the third seed, was effective with 13 points, building on his recent offensive emergence.

“They keyed in on Austin and Connor, so we always just say, run through our offense and if you have an open look, shoot it,” Brennan said. “We ran through the offense and they weren’t playing me too tight. A couple of times I had good passes and just made the shot.”

Garnet Valley’s path to victory all season has come via its high-powered offense. But when that falters or is dropped in too large a hole as it did Sunday, a stauncher defense has to rise to fill the void. That will likely be the focus ahead of its District 1 Class 6A opener next week.

“We need to get more stops, I think,” Laughlin said. “When they were holding the ball, it’s tough to get turnovers ad bounce back from that. I just think we need to play tough D.”

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