Havertown – Conestoga, the third seed in the upcoming Central League boys’ basketball playoffs, ground out a 50-45 victory Thursday against a veteran Haverford High School squad celebrating Senior Night.
The Fords clawed back from a 26-20 halftime deficit to tie the score at 35-35 at the end of the third quarter, but Conestoga took charge in the fourth period, scoring the first seven points and holding the lead the rest of the way.
Conestoga head coach Mike Troy saw this game as vital to the Pioneers’ post-season fortunes.
“We needed [to win tonight] to cement a district home playoff game, and this [contest] was a good test,” said Troy, whose Pioneers were ranked 13th in the latest PIAA Class AAAA District One power rankings. “Haverford’s a well-coached, well-disciplined team, particularly on their home court. We ground out a victory tonight – every time Haverford kept coming back, we had an answer for them.”
Senior MJ Lezanic led the way for the Pioneers with 16 points, and was potent from the free-throw line (7-for-9). Senior guard Darryl Caldwell, who earlier this season reached the 1,000 career point milestone for Conestoga, added 13 points and was 4-for-4 from the charity stripe.
Another key factor for the Pioneers Thursday night was junior Peyton Jones, who did not crack the scoring column.
“Peyton’s effort in the second half really keyed us up,” said Troy. “He’s stepped up all year, provided [on-the-court] energy coming off the bench, given us a defensive spark, and hit his shots.”
Heading into the Central League playoffs, Troy feels that the Pioneers’ best team attribute is their unselfish play.
“We’ve been sharing the ball really well – the open guy has been the one who gets the shot,” said Troy. “And our defense has been improving, to the point of where it’s becoming a strength.”
Haverford played Conestoga dead even in the first quarter, and the hosts got out to a 15-14 lead when senior Pat Corbett hit a three-pointer. Corbett finished the night with 19 points, including 10 in the third quarter.
Conestoga came right back with a 12-2 run in the second quarter. Junior Charlie Martin triggered the first four points of the run, hitting a turnaround jumper, then making a steal that resulted in an Angus Mayock layup. Senior Andrew Larkin capped the run when he hit a three-pointer from the right corner to make it 26-17 with 1:37 to go in the first half.
The Pioneers lengthened their lead to 31-22 early in the third quarter when MJ Lezanic hit a three-pointer at the top of the key; then the Fords went on an 11-0 run, eight of the points scored by Corbett, to take a 33-31 lead.
“We got patient on offense in the third quarter, started making some nice cuts on offense,” said Haverford head coach Keith Heinerichs, whose squad won three of five in the last half of January, including a 50-41 win at Radnor and a victory against Lower Merion. “We’ve improved in the past month, particularly in our ball movement and player movement.”
Before the game, Haverford honored their four seniors – forward Pat Corbett, point guard Jack Doanghy, forward Jamie Gillen and forward Connor Guilfoil. Together, these four seniors totalled 41 of the Fords’ 45 points Thursday.
With the score tied 35-35, Conestoga junior Scott Shapiro nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key; then after a Haverford turnover, Larkin scored inside on a nice feed by Caldwell. Larkin finished the night with seven points.
After the visitors’ 7-0 run, which gave them a 42-35 lead, Haverford twice got to with two points of Conestoga, the second time when senior Jamie Gillen scored inside to cut the Pioneers’ lead to 44-42. Caldwell then hit a jumper to give Conestoga some breathing room, and a minute later was fouled and made both free throws to give the Pioneers a 48-42 lead with 34 seconds left.
Conestoga will face second seed Strath Haven High School in the Central League semifinals at Haverford High School Saturday.