Gritty Lower Moreland wears down Pottsville in PIAA AAA 2nd round

READING >> As the clock ticked below 50 seconds left in the third quarter, Danny Duffey made his move.

Lower Moreland’s senior point guard poke the ball loose, gathered it up and just as a defender caught up, went up and put in a layup. Duffey’s move was the final points of the third, putting the Lions in position for a big final push.

Duffey then engineered that last charge and Lower Moreland again prevailed in a PIAA Class AAA playoff game, this time topping previously unbeaten Pottsville 52-47 at Reading’s Geigle Complex in the second round Tuesday night.

“It was big, we started the third quarter back but we let them get the momentum back,” Duffey, who scored 23 points, said. “If they had gotten a bucket there, that would have been a huge swing so I just wanted to be a little more aggressive. It seemed like they were doing what they wanted so when he turned his back, I just went for it.”

“How about that finish?,” Lions coach Seth Baron said. “One thing we preach all year is we want to grind teams down. We are not going to be the biggest or the strongest team out there so we have to be up in your face and pressure, pressure. We take pride that by the fourth quarter, we can take charge and this game, I think we did that.”

Lower Moreland, which has now advanced the farthest into the postseason in school history, again played within itself and ground down a really resolute and tough Crimson Tide team. The first half was like that phase of a Rock-Em Sock-Em Robots game where they just stand there and plug away at each other and neither really gets anywhere.

What gave the Tide an 18-14 edge was its ability to keep Lower Moreland’s 3-point shooters from getting clean looks. After hitting 14 treys in its win over Milton Hershey, LM was 0-of-5 from deep at the half. But the Lions hadn’t let Pottsville get too far ahead at any point.

“It was really all (Duffey) breaking them down,” junior sharpshooter Nick Smolda said. “I knew I didn’t contribute at all on the offensive side of the ball in the first half so when I got it, I had to let it fly right away.”

The Lions’ offense was bogged down by stagnant movement, plus Pottsville’s ability to get two or three guys around Duffey on his drives, then recover out to the perimeter. Senior Mike Gould, known as a grinder off the bench, added a big spark in the second quarter when he made a backdoor cut into open space, then scored the chip-shot layup.

But the Lions kept chipping away, Duffey kept working the ball inside, scoring nine of the team’s first-half 14 and making the Tide come in. That set up the looks from 3-point territory, and the shooters made the most of them.

Senior Tyler Millan finally connected in the third, a shot that coach Seth Baron said was big both for the team and the senior. While the Lions still trailed by four after three, Duffey’s big play made sure things were tipping toward LM.

“That was needed, they were dictating,” Baron said. “That’s a big bucket by Danny and you expect that from your captain.”

Five of Duffey’s seven assists came in the fourth quarter and four of them were on 3-point shots. Senior Dicky Rhoads canned the first 25 seconds into the fourth, a byproduct of Lower Moreland’s game-long plan to break down Pottsville.

Duffey said he was surprised how well Pottsville had them scouted but he was expecting a stout defense anyway. So when Rhoads hit that shot then Millan scored inside off a Duffey feed, the momentum was back with Lower Moreland.

“That was huge, seeing one go through and our offense coming back into swing like that,” Rhoads, who scored all six of his points on two 3s in the fourth, said. “We were hitting the open man, it was a big momentum swing.”

A hoop by Coby Wiggins inside tied the game at 35-35, then the teams traded leads for the next three minutes until Pottsville’s Jordan Abdo tied it 44-44 with 1:58 left. The next possession, Duffey got low, kicked out to Smolda and the guard buried the corner triple, sending the bench into a frenzy.

“I thought it was a big momentum swing,” Smolda said. “Anytime you can hit a 3 in a crucial time, the bench goes crazy, the whole team gets hyped, your crowd gets hyped, you feel like it’s all on you.”

Lower Moreland hit just one of its next three free throws to hold a tenuous lead made more stressful when Abdo hit a leaning 3-pointer with 30.6 seconds left to make the score 48-47. The Tide fouled Duffey, the guard hit both and after a turnover, Millan did the same with 13.8 left to ice the win.

The Lions also put the clamps down defensively in the final 2:40 after Jordan Melochick beat the defense for an and-1. A timeout message by Baron calmed his charges and they made sure whatever fatigue the Tide was feeling wasn’t going to hurt them.

“We hit five 3s in the fourth quarter and that’s a team that holds people in the 40s,” Baron said. “They were on pace for that but we got on them at halftime, let’s pick up the pace and let’s wear them down. We felt we’re the better conditioned team and we got what we wanted.”

Duffey, who also finished with 10 rebounds, seven assists and three steals on top of his 23, grabbed the game’s final board and dribbled out the clock to send the team to its first-ever quarterfinal appearance. Up next is another tall task in defending state champion Neumann-Goretti, but this group is eager to see what it can do against a touted opponent.

The history of this run isn’t lost on the players either. Duffey said they all realized what was at stake Tuesday night, and they’ve tried to get as many fans out as possible. Smolda and Rhoads credited those who took the trip up, plus the bench mob, for the energy to pull off the win.

“We’ve been looking forward to that challenge for a while, that was our biggest motivation for this game,” Rhoads said. “How we get to play Neumann, go out to have fun and try to win. We’re the underdog again but we love being the underdog.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply