Plymouth Whitemarsh stacks deck against Aces

WHITEMARSH — It was a tale of two halves for both Lower Merion and Plymouth Whitemarsh in the PIAA District One Class AAAA quarterfinal game Friday evening.

The first half, for all intents and purposes, was controlled by an Aces team that locked all windows and doors and made the Colonials settle for jumpers — jumpers that weren’t falling for the home squad.

But the resilience of PW shined in front of a packed gymnasium, as the Colonials used a 27-6 run throughout the third and fourth quarters to outpace Lower Merion, 47-36, and booked a semifinal game at the Liacouras Center Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. against Ridley, 36-34 winners over No. 1-seeded Conestoga.

“It was one of the biggest student sections I’ve seen this year — it was amazing,’ Xzavier Malone, who scored a game-high 15 points, said. “Who wouldn’t want to play in front of a crowd like that?

“Basically going into the half we just said to ourselves, we came way too far to end it right now. First of all, we had a goal: We’re not losing any games at home.’

Plymouth Whitemarsh and Lower Merion were even at 8-8 after the first quarter, but the Aces started to find their groove the following period. Steve Pendleton scored six points in the second, the guard tying for a game-high 15 points, while PW could only muster a measly three points with 4.8 seconds left in the second quarter to trail 19-11 at the half.

“We said if you want to lose and play a consolation game Tuesday just keep sitting back, and we’ll book the consolation game now because Lower Merion is too damn good,’ Plymouth Whitemarsh head coach Jim Donofrio said of his team’s effort in the first 16 minutes.

The Colonials dug deep, channeling the sheer disappointment they experienced a year ago when they fell to Central Bucks West in the second round of districts, 37-35, and then later to Wissahickon 52-47 in the playback game, and came out of the locker room with a sense of urgency.

“Last year provides a lot of fuel,’ Donofrio said. “When you get your heart broke like we did last year to ourselves, they work so hard at it but the biggest challenge sometimes that they forget you’ve never been in this environment.

“When we won the state in 2010, it was because in 2009 we fell just short,’ Donofrio continued. “This is unknown for these guys so it’s a heck of an accomplishment to be down by eight at the half and be stunned and just say we’re going to win. That’s just pure, fun high school sports right there.’

Not to be deterred, the Colonials had a resurgence after the halftime break and eventually ripped off seven in a row to start the second half and took a 29-27 lead with a minute-plus to go in the third — the previous lead the Colonials had over the Aces was 5-4 way back in the first.

The defense came to life, which translated to easy buckets on the other end, and Plymouth Whitemarsh found itself up 31-27 after three quarters, with momentum and a hysterical student section on its side.

At one point the Colonials knocked down 15 unanswered in a stretch that poured into the fourth quarter, before finishing the game on a 27-6 tear. The Aces found themselves with their heads spinning, having no answers for the stymieing defense and the run and gun play of PW.

“We’re a defensive-minded team, so we just came into the second half playing defense and good things are going to happen,’ Malone said. “We run up and down the court and tire them out because they can’t keep up with us.

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