Bryn Mawr – It was two years ago when Shipley boys’ basketball coach Phil D’Ambrosio was sitting in Yarnall Gymnasium (Shipley’s home gym) following a loss to Academy of New Church in the FSL play-in game when he thought to himself, “Can we make it to the FSL championship game.”
D’Ambrosio has to wonder no more following his team’s hard fought 65-51 win over a well-disciplined and scrappy Friends’ Central team in a Friend’s Schools League semi-final contest on Tuesday afternoon at Shipley.
“This win was really big,” said Shipley senior Kiyon Hardy following the game. “We finished the regular season on a 15-game winning streak but we knew this was a new season so we wanted come out and play hard. We didn’t start well but we continued to play hard and finish strong.”
With the win, the Shipley boy’s team will join the Shipley girls’ team in the Friends Schools League championship game on Friday night at Haverford College. The girls started the evening defeating Westtown 58-35 behind a balanced scoring attack led by Anna Camden (20 points), Lauren Ross (19 points) and Yndiah Bobo (15 points).
The Shipley boys’ team will be making their first-ever appearance in the FSL title game while the Gator girls will be returning to a familiar sight after a one-year absence.
“Getting to the FSL championship is great for these guys,” D’Ambrosio said. “They have been a key part of this program for four years, have seen the highs and lows and have hung in. It’s a testament to how hard they have worked.”
To reach the championship game, the Gators knew they would have a fight on their hands against a feisty Friends’ Central squad. Led by junior Sam Sessoms and freshman Khai Champion Shipley jumped out to a quick 9-5 lead.
However, the Phoenix was not ready to fly away quietly and see their FSL campaign end. Buying into the game plan, the Phoenix fought back from a 22-14 deficit early in the second quarter by closing the half on a 16-2 run to take a 31-24 lead into the break.
Sparking the run was senior Antone Walker, who scored 10 of his team-high 23 points during the run to give his team the halftime lead.
With facing deficits something the Gators have endured many times this season, Shipley opened the second half with a 10-0 run to take a 34-31 lead. Similar to the first match-up between these two teams (which was won by Shipley), the back and fourth battle began with Shipley eventually taking a 44-38 lead into the final stanza thanks to a 7-2 run.
Unlike the first match-up which saw Friends’ Central lose its composure, the Phoenix quickly showed they had no plans of going quietly getting to within two points at 47-45 when freshman BK Kothari knocked down a three-pointer with a little over three minutes remaining.
“In our first meeting we were trailing by five with 1:50 left in the third quarter and then we lost our composure,” said Friends’ Central boys head coach Ryan Tozer. “We focused a lot this week on keeping our composure, focusing on the next play and staying together as team. Unfortunately a couple of calls went against us and a couple of shots did not fall but I am very proud of their effort and poise.”
Unfortunately that would be the closest the young Friends’ Central team would get as Shipley clamped down on defense, allowing only three points the rest of the way.
The loss may have marked the end of FSL play for Walker, Alex Chesen, Max Valenci, Benn Kenney and Christopher Annas, but it has not marked the end of their career. They will now wait to see where they are seeded for the upcoming PAISAA tournament.
“It’s a very tough loss, a very emotional loss,” said Walker. “It’s my FSL final game for me and the other seniors. It’s been very special to see how this group has shown a lot of growth and has played hard. The FSL means a lot to me and I just told the younger players to keep their heads up and stay competitive.”
Tozer added, “Any coach wants their team playing their best basketball down the stretch. I thought this was our best team effort all season. Through daily practice efforts, watching film, and holding guys accountable they bought into the standard that has been set by players that have preceded them. Again, disappointed in the outcome but excited about the future.”