Spring-Ford turns up tempo on Upper Merion in PAC Semifinals

NORRISTOWN >> Spring-Ford’s plan was to play fast. The first time the Rams met Upper Merion, in January, a slower pace favored by the Vikings resulted in the Rams’ narrow escape, 46-43.

This time, the Rams went NASCAR, screeching the tires right out of the gate and speeding away early with a devastating 18-0 run. For the most part they maintained the blistering pace, staving off a couple mini-runs in the second half by Upper Merion and putting the Vikings away, 57-46, in Friday’s first semifinal of the Pioneer Athletic Conference boys basketball playoffs.

“The first time we played them they slowed it down. We worked all week at dictating the pace,” Spring-Ford coach Chris Talley said. “We didn’t want it to be a 42-45 game; we wanted it to be in the 60s because we thought that would be to our advantage.  And to our kids’ credit, they set the tone.”

Spring-Ford’s Austin Hokanson rises up for a shot over two Viking defenders during the first half. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)

The Rams (17-6 overall), were already up 12-2 when senior sixth man, guard Chucky Drummond, jumped off the bench and joined the party, adding an extra gear to the Rams’ track attack. He splashed two three-pointers to push the first-period lead to 18-2 and went on to score a game-high 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including 5-of-7 from three.

“When he gets one or two to go down, his confidence goes through the roof,” Talley said. “He played a heck of a game. I’m proud of him.”

“Hitting my first shot gives me more confidence to keep shooting,” Drummond said. “We were just trying to keep that lead. We had a 20-point lead on Phoenixville and let them come back. We wanted to stay focused.”

Spring-Ford junior forward Austin Hokanson added 16 points and notched a double-double, including his 10 rebounds. Spring-Ford had solid play from everybody and played very clean – eight turnovers – especially considering the fast pace they dictated.

To run, you’ve got to defend and rebound, and the Rams did that to the max. Upper Merion (13-10 overall) – which made some noise in its first year in the PAC by winning the Frontier Division title (9-4 in the conference) – shot 1-of-13 from the floor in the first quarter. Going against 6-7 Ethan Miller and 6-8 Matthew Faw, the Rams took a 14-8 rebound advantage the first quarter and beat the Vikes on the boards 36-32 for the game. Six-foot-two Spring-Ford sophomore Noah Baker played big, corralling six boards the first quarter – four offensive – and 12 for the game.

Spring-Ford’s Chucky Drummond rises up for a three over Upper Merion’s Ethan Miller (20). (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)

“He’s a sophomore and this was his first big game, and to have those rebounds against a team with a front line like that, it shows the kind of effort he put in,” Talley said.

“They’re bigger than us, so we had to box out, and as long as we did our part and controlled the pace, it was our game,” Baker said. “We wanted to beat them as much as possible early in the game so they couldn’t come back.”

Faw notched 16 of his team-high 18 points in the middle two quarters. Miller had a tough shooting night (3-of-16) as the Rams contested virtually every shot by everybody, but he did pull down 14 boards.

“We wanted to run them and see if they still had legs in the fourth quarter,” Talley said.

Spring-Ford’s Noah Baker drives into the paint as Upper Merion’s Ethan Miller defends during the first half. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)

Both Upper Merion big guys gave it all they had. Faw fouled out. The Vikings as a group battled hard and wouldn’t go quietly. Down 20-2 after Spring-Ford’s torrid transition clinic, the Vikings won the second quarter 15-11, with Faw highlighting the resurgence by hitting a three and completing an and-one on a drive.

From a 13-point deficit early in the third, here came the Vikes on consecutive and-ones sequences by Miller and Faw. Another trey by Faw made it a six-point game, 35-29.

But another trey by Drummond and his baseline shot bought some cushion for the Rams. They’d need it again near the 4-minute mark of the fourth when the Vikings cut it to five. Some good defensive sequences for the Rams restored order, and they scored their last seven points from the foul line as the Vikes were forced to foul.

“We really wanted to show we’ve got a lot of energy and teamwork,” Hokanson said. “They said they wanted to come through PAC undefeated the first year. We’re still the defending champions and hope we can keep the same energy next game.”

“We’re on a mission to win the PAC championship,” Baker added.

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