WHITEMARSH — Octorara’s Levi Worthington didn’t seem to want to give up the District One trophy Saturday evening, cradling it through interviews even as his teammates begged to pose for pictures with it.
His desire to keep a hold of the trophy mirrored the tenacity with which he helped his Braves attain it.
The power forward scored a game-high 24 points, including 11 in a 27-point first quarter from which Glen Mills couldn’t recover in an 80-54 setback in the Class AAA championship game before a sweltering capacity crowd at Colonial Elementary School.
Worthington and the top-seeded Braces (25-2) simply blitzed Glen Mills from the tip. They led 27-10 after one frame thanks largely to Worthington’s early offense and a swarming pressure defense that caused eight Glen Mills turnovers, a relatively moderate total considering that the Battlin’ Bulls coughed up the ball on each of their first five possessions.
So often, adages about preparation and coming ready to play sound trite. Saturday, the difference was clear.
“We realized this is the championship,’ said Worthington, who added eight rebounds despite foul trouble limiting him in the third quarter. “You don’t get that many chances. Not a lot of people get a chance to say they’re in a district championship. So we understood, yeah, we’ve got to go out there like it’s our last, and that’s what we did.’
The contrast couldn’t be more blatant. While Octorara wanted to run-and-gun, playing a hair-on-fire tempo for long stretches, Glen Mills (18-7) faltered in the basic aspects of the game. They were outworked on the glass repeatedly and sluggish getting back on defense as the Braves got out on the break. When Glen Mills did manage to get the ball over halfcourt, its shot selection was suspect.
Factor in their wastefulness on chances around the basket and that their usual mode of shaking out the cobwebs (i.e., speeding teams up with pressure defense) was less effective against a team electing to operate at the break-neck pace of the Braves, and a 17-point deficit was too much to overcome.
“In a championship game, I’m disappointed with our effort, to be quite honest,’ Glen Mills coach Tony Bacon said. “I give all credit to (Octorara). Their kids played their behind off, but you can’t win when you give up four, five, six offensive rebounds until they score. And they were just scrambling all over the place. We couldn’t catch the ball. We couldn’t contain the ball. We couldn’t get any rebounds. And they outhustled us. I congratulate their kids and their coach, because they played today. And unfortunately, we picked the wrong day to play the way we did.’
The numbers for Glen Mills aren’t too friendly, but the perception is worse. The Battlin’ Bulls committed 20 turnovers, a number that seemed much higher. They were only outrebounded, 44-41, but Octorara attempted 12 more field goals. That included several sequences of four or five consecutive shot attempts for the Braves, allowed to shoot until they made one.
Those examples of back-breaking momentum swings meant that while Glen Mills played Octorara even for the middle two quarters, they couldn’t make up ground. After the first quarter, they got no closer than 14 points when Octorara briefly suspended its explosive scoring for the first two minutes of the second half. But within five minutes, the margin was restored to 23 and formally out of reach.
“It’s very tough,’ Glen Mills point guard Khyzeem Brown said. “We’ve just got to keep playing. People are getting frustrated, and we’ve just got to keep our heads in the right place.’
Despite Octorara’s early hot hand, neither team had a particularly good shooting night. The Braves created all those offensive rebounds by shooting 43 percent (31-for-72), though they moved the ball well with 18 assists.
Glen Mills, meanwhile, was just 23-for-60 from the field (38.3 percent) and 0-for-9 from 3-point land. The Bulls saw far too many layups rim out, including not one, not two, but three dunk attempts by Anthony Johnson that rocketed off the back iron.
Brown kept the Bulls ticking, attacking the paint at will and capitalizing on the overzealous whistling of the refs. The guard scored 17 points, but too often his drives to the hoop were inspired by a lack of other offensive options. Brown also did his usual hard-nosed bit in the lane, grabbing 11 rebounds.
Johnson added 16 points (though on 15 shot attempts) and 10 rebounds, but the next most productive player was Steven Welsh (six points).
“They were very competitive,’ Brown said. “We just had to play hard, and they were getting the best of us. We weren’t working as hard as we should have. … It seemed like they wanted it more than us.’
When the offensive floodgates opened for Octorara, there was no stopping the torrent. Tarojae Brake was deferential and relatively quiet by his prolific standards, tallying 20 points, eight from the line in the second half. Andrew Forman added 10, including an electrifying alley oop from Brake, and Jackson Ray posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards.
All of it was far too much for Glen Mills to handle, giving the Braves a much-deserved title.
“We’ve been through this all year,’ Worthington said. “It’s the same old game. We kept ourselves composed and just did our thing out there.’
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