Lower Merion earns sixth straight state playoff berth

As the clock ticked down toward 0:00 and the Lower Merion bench began celebrating its 47-36 win over Penncrest in the second round of the PIAA District One Class AAAA playoffs Wednesday, head coach Gregg Downer did not show a smile until the final horn sounded.

As the final horn sounded and the Lower Merion student section stormed the floor, Downer finally showed a small smile knowing this victory pushed Lower Merion into the quarterfinal round of the district tournament as well as locking up a bid in the upcoming PIAA Class AAAA state tournament for the sixth consecutive year, and the ninth in the past 11 years.

“This is great for the team,’ said Downer, in the locker room following the game after the kids had left for the evening. “Our first goal is always to win the Central League but unfortunately we did not do that, falling to a red hot Ridley team. Then we turn our focus to getting a state bid. Winning two close contests in our home gym is great for the kids.’

“It’s an amazing feeling,’ said senior Steve Pendleton, who finished with 10 points, three rebounds and one steal. “This team has worked very hard this year and earning a quarterfinal berth in the district tournament and a state tournament bid means so much.’

Senior Jule Brown added, “This is a big deal. We had some older players in front of us; some great players in front of us. So for me, Corey (Sherman) and Steve to do this on our own is special.’

Lower Merion (16-9), the 12th seed, is scheduled to face No. 4 seed Plymouth-Whitemarsh Friday.

With each game getting tougher as a team moves along in the district tournament, it looks as though the difficult non-league schedule the Aces face during the regular season paid dividends.

With the Lower Merion student section, aka the “Dawg Pound’ at a fever pitch at tip-off, the Aces came out strong with Corey Sherman knocking down a three-ball followed by Jule Brown finding Jeremy Horn for back-to-back baskets to push the early lead to 9-5.

The Lions came roaring back and sliced the deficit to 9-8 at the end of one. With composed senior leadership, Lower Merion began to establish some momentum going on a 10-4 second quarter run to take a 19-12 lead into halftime.

As a team used to being in dog fights all year, the hosts knew their Central League visitors would not go quietly and that is exactly what happened after halftime with the Lions reeling off a 9-2 run to knot the game at 21-21.

With the game still knotted after three at 27-27, Lower Merion reflected back to their difficult regular season schedule and knew what they had to do to win a key game. Feeling like they did not achieve that so-called signature win during the regular season, the Aces were hoping to give the fans something to remember in their final regular season home game.

After Penncrest converted a lay-up to begin the fourth quarter, Brown and Pendleton swung the momentum in Lower Merion’s favor knocking down back-to-back three-pointers to give the hosts a 33-29 lead.

After struggling most of the night, Pendleton came up huge again knocking down the three-pointer that would give his team a 37-33 lead that they would continue build on until the final horn sounded sending the home crowd into a frenzy.

To help seal the win, the Aces closed the game going 10-for-14 from the free throw line that included Sherman going five for six.

Pendleton said, “My coaches told me to keep shooting and stay positive. I kept telling myself to stay positive and keep shooting. When I took the shots I stayed confident and hoped they would go in.’

Brown said, “I’ve grown up with Steve. We played together since elementary school and he has worked so hard for this moment so it means a lot. I knew he was going to hit those big shots.’

“Steve was the hero for us the Council Rock North game and we wouldn’t be here talking right now if it weren’t for him,’ Downer said. “Our key was to win the three-point game tonight and we did that 5-3. Jule hit a huge three to give us the lead and then Steve hit back-to-back threes to give us the cushion we needed.’


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