Harrar leads Strath Haven into title game

LOWER MERION >> For four years, John Harrar said Sunday, he’s been waiting for an opportunity like what was before him and his Strath Haven teammates: A Central League title shot, with the bonus of a little retribution against the Conestoga albatross that has plagued the last two resurgent years.

Harrar channeled every ounce of anticipation into a magisterial performance that left the Pioneers floored.

Strath Haven’s John Harrar, right, rises to block a shot by Conestoga’s Milton Robinson Sunday as Ryan Morris defends. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Harrar scored 25 points to go with 17 rebounds, two assists and two blocks as the Panthers controlled Conestoga, 62-54, in the Central League semis at Harriton High School Sunday.

The win moves fourth-seeded Haven (14-9) into Tuesday’s final against Lower Merion, which topped Penncrest, 53-51, in the nightcap. Tipoff at Marple Newtown is 8 p.m.

If Harrar played like a man possessed, then it was history monopolizing his attention. The Panthers lost in overtime to Conestoga this season and by one point in their regular-season meeting last year. At this stage of the Central League playoffs a season ago, the Pioneers clipped a 19-3 Panthers team, 42-40.

Six days later, Haven’s season abruptly ended in the first round of the District 1 tournament.

Add in Conestoga’s regular-season crown and Strath Haven earning the fourth seed only through Garnet Valley’s loss Friday as Haven did the same vs. Harriton, and the us-against-the-world rhetoric was finely polished.

This time, Harrar assured with one domineering rebound at a time, would be different.

“We came back hard,” Harrar said. “I needed to step up. A couple of other people stepped up. We played our best.”

Not only did Harrar rain points upon the Pioneers, he also managed to foul out his two primary defenders, with Angus Mayock given his marching orders with 5 minutes left.

More impressive was that it required improvisation. Cooper Driscoll, Harrar’s frontcourt mate most of the season, rolled an ankle Saturday. (Driscoll missed seven games earlier in the season and was limited to two minutes Sunday).

Into the lineup stepped the undersized Jeffrey Conner, and the Panthers seemed more balanced for the change.

“We were just trying to push the ball, get people going fast, get to the basket,” Conner said. “Cooper got injured in practice, we made the switch and did what we had to do to get the win.”

Conner scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds, contributing to the offensive balance. Ryan Morris and Chris Rosini combined to hit five 3-pointers, scoring 13 points apiece. And Peter Foggo added four points, justifying coach Dave McFadden’s use of a tightened bench.

Strath Haven’s John Harrar drives on Conestoga’s Angus Mayock in the first quarter Sunday at Harriton High School. Strath Haven won 62-54, (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

“I think our best basketball is when I can get my points in the post and then shoot the mid-range,” Harrar said. “But when that double team (comes), I kick it out to Ryan and I know it’s going to go in. That’s when I know it’s going to be hard to beat us.”

Strath Haven seized control early and never looked in serious jeopardy of relinquishing it. The Panthers led by as many as 16 in the first half and 12 at the break. Conestoga used a 12-2 spurt between the third and fourth quarters to winnow the lead to four points at, 40-36 (including a brief timeout for Conestoga coach Mike Troy to fruitlessly argue that the score was incorrect).

But Harrar turned it on, with two straight baskets before Rosini canned a back-breaking triple at 3:43 that restored a 10-point cushion and took the starch out of the comeback.

Scott Shapiro led Conestoga with 20 points, albeit on 17 shot attempts. Zach Lezanic added 10 of his 15 in the fourth quarter, but the Pioneers simply weren’t good enough.

They made just four of 17 attempts from 3-point range (23.5 percent) and were an embarrassing 6-for-15 from the free-throw line.

That effort had not chance of muzzling a driven Harrar Sunday.

“Our history with them has been awful,” he said. “… This one feels good.”

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