Newtown Square >> Church Farm, the No. 3 seed in the PIAA District 1 2A boys’ basketball tournament, had a tall order on its hands coming into Delco Christian’s gym Wednesday evening for the district semifinal.
The Griffins (10-10) faced the star senior twin towers of 6-foot-6 Jackson Piotrowski (the MVP of the Bicentennial League’s Presidents Division) and 6-foot-4 Obinna Nwobodo (first team All-BAL) anchoring a high-scoring Knights’ squad that had won the last two District 1 2A titles.
Trailing by eight points at halftime, the Griffins revved up their defense in the second half to spark a 65-44 win that put them into the district final against No. 1 Dock Mennonite (scheduled for Feb. 22 at 2 p.m. at Lower Merion High School), and locked up a PIAA 2A state tournament berth.
For No. 2 seed Delco Christian (17-9), aiming for its seventh state tourney berth in eight years, the loss meant the season was over. In the second half, Church Farm outscored the Knights, 44-15.
“I think it was attention to detail; we took a lot of charges in the second half,” said Church Farm head coach Jonathan Guarente. “We were able to get [Piotrowski and Nwobodo] in foul trouble, and once we did that we were able to take control of the game.”
The Griffins took control at the start of the third quarter, going on a 12-0 run to take the lead for good.
“In the second half, we identified some kids that we wanted to get help [defense] on; we didn’t want their main players to beat us,” said Guarente. “We double-teamed the post, because we’re a little bit of a smaller team. We noticed they lowered their shoulder at times, so we knew we could take charges in the second half.”
Church Farm senior guard and co-captain Elijah Johnson said, “At halftime, Coach [Guarente] told us that we worked for this from the beginning of the season, getting up at 6 a.m., 7 a.m. to work out. He told us that this [game] is really our season, and having a chance to play for the district championship is something I’ve always wanted.
“In the second half, we kind of focused in on Jackson; he’s a great basketball player, and we knew that if we stopped him it would be very hard for them to get their baskets. In the second half, we felt more confident guarding our man – trying to get five-second calls, and playing defense up and making sure that our man has to back us down to try to get charges as a team, but that’s something we’ve worked on in practice all season.”
In the first half, Piotrowski and Nwobodo combined for 15 points, 6-foot-3 sophomore guard EJ Greer chipped in with seven and sophomore Jace Kees gave the hosts a nice boost with back-to-back treys late in the second quarter.
Delco Christian opened the third quarter with several costly turnovers and offensive fouls; and while Church Farm was turning the ball over a few times too, the Griffens gradually caught up to the hosts. Johnson and junior guard Nasir Young combined for 10 points in the 12-0 run, by which time Church Farm had a 33-29 lead with 3:31 to go in the third quarter.
Piotrowski worked his way inside for a couple of layups to tie the score at 33-33, then Johnson got underneath for a couple of three-point plays at the end of the third quarter to give Church Farm a 39-33 lead. Johnson scored 10 points in the third quarter, finishing with 18.
“Elijah was relentless in getting to the rim,” said Guarente. “He was poised when we needed him the most, and at the end of the game it really showed for us.”
One minute into the fourth quarter, Young hit a trey from the left corner and was fouled, making the free throw to give Church Farm a 43-33 lead. Young tallied four treys Wednesday and finished with a game-high 20 points.
“Nasir has come a long way this season – he wasn’t even a starter at the beginning of the year, and now he’s making big threes,” said Guarente. “When he made that big three in the corner and got fouled I thought that was a big momentum swing.”
With 5:59 to go in the fourth quarter, Nwobodo went to the bench with his fifth foul, at which time the Griffins were leading 45-34.
Three minutes later, Piotrowski, who had scored eight second-half points, picked up his fifth foul (all five were charged in the second half), and by then, Church Farm had a 53-38 lead.
Church Farm junior guard Reggie Phifer helped ice the victory, making seven of his first eight free throws in the fourth quarter, and finishing with 15 points. Griffin junior forward Mamadou Sissoko chipped in with seven second-half points. Meanwhile, the visitors kept the high-scoring Knights at bay.
“I think for us, it was a complete team effort on defense,” said Guarente. “I don’t think we’re talented enough to have one guy take somebody out of the game; we’re a collective group. It was poise and perseverance in the face of adversity, and we’ve been doing that all season long.”
For Piotrowski and Nwobodo, the loss was a bitter pill to swallow, as it ended an era for them that included District 1 2A championships the past two years.
“The loss hurts, but I’ve loved these past four years at Delco Christian,” said Piotrowski, who has decided to do a prep year at Phelps School next fall. “I can’t thank our coaches enough, and I wouldn’t trade [going to] this school for anywhere else.”
Delco Christian head coach Reggie Parks said, “Give Church Farm credit, they played hard defensively, and giving them extra possessions is not something that we want because they like to fast break, and when you turn the ball over, you give them the juice that they desire. We tried to get the ball to our bigs, but Church Farm did a lot of double-teaming.”
Parks reflected on Delco Christian’s sudden end to the season.
“There’s a lot of disappointment in the locker room, the kids are hurting – they wanted to continue the legacy that we’ve built here, but I love these guys,” said Parks. “The team this year was a unique group, with our grizzled veteran seniors and a lot of young sophomores who were looking to become better players. I really enjoyed coaching this group, we were just starting to come together as a whole, and unfortunately we had a bump in the road tonight at the wrong time. We put up a valiant fight tonight, but it’s tough when you don’t have the two big guys at the end.
“I know these guys are going to do great things in the future, and not just through basketball. They are high-character kids, especially our group of seniors. They’re going to do great things in life as men, and to me that’s more important than anything else.”
Church Farm 65, Delco Christian 44
Church Farm 10 11 18 26 – 65
Delco Christian 16 13 4 11 – 44
Church Farm (65): Johnson 5 8-11 18, Jiminez 1 0-0 3, Young 6 4-4 20, Sow 0 0-0 0, Toledo 0 0-0 0, Phifer 3 7-10 13, Sissoko 4 1-3 9, Sullivan 0 0-0 0, Sharkey 0 0-0 0, Totals 19 20-28 65.
Delco Christian (44): Piotrowski 6 2-4 14, Nwobodo 4 0-0 8, Parks 0 2-2 2, Lucas 0 0-0 0, Greer 4 3-4 12, Bushra 0 0-0 0, Dell’Arciprete 0 0-0 0, Kees 2 2-4 8, Totals 16 9-14 44.
3-point field goals: CF – Young 4, Phifer 2, Jiminez. DC – Greer, Kees 2.
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