Graeff leads Great Valley past Pottsgrove in District 1-5A playoffs

EAST WHITELAND >> From the start of the season, Nate Graeff and his senior teammates had a goal in mind.

“We established what we wanted to do right away,” said the Patriots’ senior big man. “We got together in the beginning of the season. Me, Liam (Ward) and Matt (Porreca), we got with the team and we said that our goal is to get back to Temple and win a game there this time.”

On Wednesday night in front of their home crowd, the Patriots took the first step in that journey.

Great Valley used a huge second-quarter outburst then hung on in the final moments to beat Pottsgrove, 42-39, during the opening round of the District 1 Class 5A playoffs.

Great Valley’s Matt Porreca (24) drives along the baseline during Wednesday night’s game against Pottsgrove. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

With the win, No. 5 Great Valley (17-6 overall) advances to face No. 4 Wissahickon in the second round of districts on Saturday. An upset win over the Trojans would qualify the Patriots for the PIAA playoffs for the second straight season, and put them back in the District 1 semifinals to be played at Temple University at the end of the month.

“This was the first step. We knew we couldn’t overlook anyone, especially Pottsgrove,” said Graeff, quick to note that the Falcons had beat his team earlier in the season.

For No. 12 Pottsgrove, the season comes to a close at 12-11 overall. With head coach Jack Flanagan out with illness, assistant coach Chip Deveney filled in on the sidelines for the Falcons.

On the night, Graeff battled and bullied his way in the paint on the way to a game-high 19 points along with a game-saving block off the backboard in the final minute to preserve the late lead and end Pottsgrove’s surge. Junior Jake Prevost knocked down a pair of clutch free throws late and grabbed 10 rebounds on the night.

Great Valley’s Gavin Frankenheimer (22) shoots over Pottsgrove’s Khaliym Smith. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

“We wanted to control the tempo of the game,” said Great Valley head coach Paul Girone. “Pottsgrove is a great team, they’re loaded with athletes. If you get behind on them, they spread you out, they force you to go man-to-man.

“We executed our gameplan really well. We controlled the ball, moved it well.”

Great Valley was at its best in the second quarter. Moving the ball efficiently and effectively all over the court, the Patriots went on a five-minute 15-2 run out of the gates before taking a 26-17 lead into the half.

Pottsgrove responded in the third quarter, though, using a 10-point run throughout, which Graeff ended with a finish above the rim just before the buzzer as the Patriots took a 31-27 lead into the final frame.

“Our seniors showed a lot of leadership,” said Deveney. “Jayden Blakey, Jason Hein and Mike Ziegler. Those three guys, the seniors made plays when it came down to it. All you can do is give yourself an opportunity to win a game late. Our guys did that. They put themselves in good position late.”

After Great Valley opened up the final quarter on a 9-2 tear, Pottsgrove was quick to answer back.

Pottsgrove’s Jason Hein (21) shoots over the defense of Great Valley’s Liam Ward (21) and Nate Graeff (32) Wednesday night. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

Mike Ziegler drained a 3-pointer from the left elbow just before Jason Hein stole it at the top of the key and drove the length of the court for two more. Over a minute later, Hein put back an offensive rebound, then Ziegler followed with a free throw and a bucket in traffic to make it 40-39 with less than a minute to go.

After a pair of missed free-throw attempts from Graeff, Hein got a good look at the basket in traffic, but couldn’t convert the bucket for the Falcons. Moments later, Prevost sunk two clutch attempts at the line to finish with the game’s final points.

Pottsgrove’s Manny Clark (1) drives to the basket during the first half of Wednesday night’s game against Great Valley. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

Though it was a disappointing finish to the season for the Falcons, Deveney was quick to note that Pottsgrove turned around what had looked like a lost season.

“We started out the year 2-9,” he said “but played some really good basketball down the final stretch to put ourselves in this position. We won 10 of our last 11 games and that showed a lot of character.”

Ziegler and Hein finished with 13 points apiece on the night while junior point guard Manny Clark finished with six.

State of Mind >> Pottsgrove has gone the better part of three decades without a trip to the PIAA playoffs. The Falcons’ last trip to states was in Class 2A action in 1981, where they lost their opening-round game against Central Columbia.

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