Spring-Ford overwhelms Upper Merion for first PAC boys basketball championship since 2015-16

ROYERSFORD >>Unselfish play and hot shooting staked Spring-Ford to a lead of 11 points at halftime of Tuesday night’s Pioneer Athletic Conference boys basketball championship game. Then Upper Merion picked up the pace and tried to claw back into the game after the break.

But try as they might, the Vikings could not really make a game of it, because the Rams simply would not allow them to. Spring-Ford continued to attack the basket and sink its shots and pulled away to a 74-55 win at Spring-Ford High School, earning its first PAC title since 2016 and sixth overall.

Sophomore Jacob Nguyen led the No. 1 seed Rams (23-2) with 25 points, E.J. Campbell followed with 17, Caleb Little added 12 and Zach Zollers pulled in a game-high 10 rebounds.

“These guys have gotten up for every game,” said SF coach Joe Dempsey. “We’ve had a couple hiccups but you don’t do what we’ve done thus far without special kids. They are dialed in every day and they come to play.”

Spring-Ford’s Caleb Little (13) and EJ Campbell (1) race toward their student section after defeating Upper Merion in the PAC championship game on Feb. 14 at Spring-Ford. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Zayd Etheridge led No. 2 seed Upper Merion (13-11) with 21 points.

The Rams were unwilling participants when Upper Merion made its big push in the third.

“We didn’t want them to get back into the game,” said Nguyen, who shot 6-for-7 from the field in the second half and 10-for-12 for the game, including five 3-point baskets. “We executed our offense. The coaches called good plays.”

“I just said we can’t play this game on our heels,” added Dempsey, whose team shot 59% (32-for-54) from the floor while shooting only five free throws. “We didn’t allow that to happen. By the end of the third quarter, we felt our depth.”

Nguyen knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the circle to open the night’s scoring and, except for a 5-5 tie, the Rams led the rest of the contest. A six-point run made it 15-7 after a quarter on the way to a 36-25 advantage at the half.

Spring-Ford players celebrate Upper Merion player Cole Gemmill’s game-ending basket that concluded the Rams’ victory in the PAC championship game on Feb. 14 at Spring-Ford. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)
Upper Merion’s Devin Swayze (21) and Zayd Etheridge (5) battle with Spring-Ford’s Jacob Nguyen for a loose ball during the PAC championship game on Feb. 14 at Spring-Ford. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)
Spring-Ford’s Zach Zollers (4) dribbles toward the basket against the defense of Upper Merion’s Nick Smiley during the PAC championship game on Feb. 14 at Spring-Ford. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

The Vikings did manage to make some headway in the third quarter, with a 3-pointer by Elijah Davis (9 points) cutting the deficit to 47-39 with 2:27 remaining. But Nguyen hit both ends of a 1-and-1 and then drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing to close the quarter and Little sank a turnaround jumper to start the fourth for a 54-39 lead.

A score off a drive by Campbell – who scored nine in the fourth quarter on 4-for-4 shooting – bumped the lead up to 59-42 with 6:10 to go.

“Shooting and scoring,” said Viking coach Jason Quenzer. “They made a lot of shots. We knew it would be tough tonight. They played an outstanding game. They were patient. We had to take some chances at the end.”

The Rams made numerous layups throughout the night as they cut to the basket and teammates delivered pinpoint passes.

“Super, super unselfish,” said 6-2 senior guard Zollers. “We don’t care who scores. We just want to win.”

“We have five terrific seniors,” said Dempsey. ”Nobody cares who scores. Nobody cares who gets the credit. It all starts with those five seniors (Zollers, Little, Michael McKenna, Alex Lewis, Tyree Banks). Their record speaks for itself.”

And when the Rams weren’t scoring inside, Nguyen was hitting shot after shot from outside.

“My jump shot felt good tonight,” said the 6-4 sophomore guard, who came into the game third in scoring in the PAC with 15.4 points per game. “I had a lot of confidence. Everyone contributed. We all shot the ball. We all like each other. We all trust each other. We trust our coaches.”

The Rams were playing in the final for the first time in five years after a tough finish to last season.

“We were very disappointed we missed the playoffs last year,” said Dempsey. “The guys made up their mind last year it was not going to happen again. Every night it’s different guys. Some nights, its guys off the bench. Tonight, we were a sum of our parts.”

“I just do what I can do,” said Zollers, a football standout who made all four of his shots from the floor for eight points. “It’s great. It feels good to win my senior year.”

Spring-Ford’s Jacob Nguyen grabs a rebound against Upper Merion’s Zayd Etheridge during the PAC championship game on Feb. 14 at Spring-Ford. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)
Spring-Ford’s Tommy Kelly elevates for a close-range shot as Upper Merion’s Colin Hirshorn defends during the PAC championship game on Feb. 14 at Spring-Ford. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

The Rams are ranked first in District 1-6A and will have a bye in the opening round of the playoffs and then open at home on Tuesday. Upper Merion is ranked No. 11 in Class 5A and will visit No. 6 Pottstown on Friday at 7 p.m.

The Vikings were making their first finals appearance since joining the league in 2017 after winning for the first time in a PAC Final Six playoff game in the semifinals.

“It’s definitely an accomplishment,” said Quenzer. “We’re proud. You don’t come to lose, but we’re happy to experience this. We’re not happy with the outcome. It was tough, but there’s more basketball. We’re back on Friday night. We just have to learn from tonight.”

Spring-Ford vs Upper Merion (PAC Championship)


Team 1 2 3 4 T
Upper Merion 7 18 14 16 55
Spring-Ford 15 21 16 22 74

Upper Merion

00 Cole Gemmill 1 0 0 0 2
0 Richie Wynne 1 0 0 0 2
1 Devon Nelson 3 0 0 0 6
2 Nick Smiley 3 1 4 0 7
4 Qwynne Seals 0 0 0 0 0
5 Zayd Etheridge 5 8 10 3 21
10 Josh Nguyen 0 0 0 0 0
13 Colin Hirshorn 2 0 0 0 4
20 Allen Cole 0 0 0 0 0
21 Devin Swayze 2 0 0 0 4
22 Josh Zimmerman 0 0 0 0 0
23 Elijah Davis 2 3 4 2 9
25 Yusuf Riley 0 0 0 0 0
Total 19 12 18 5 55


1 EJ‌ Campbell‌ 6 4 4 1 17
2 Tyree‌ Banks‌ 1 0 0 0 2
3 Jacob Nguyen 10 0 0 5 25
4 Zach‌ Zollers‌ 4 0 0 0 8
5 Michael McKenna‌ 0 0 1 0 0
10 Justin Johnson 0 0 0 0 0
11 Jake Dellangelo 0 0 0 0 0
12 Caleb‌ ‌Little‌ 6 0 0 0 12
13 Tommy Kelly 3 0 0 0 6
20‌ Alex‌ ‌Lewis‌ 2 0 0 0 4
22 Luke Pufko 0 0 0 0 0
23 Oben Mokonchu 0 0 0 0 0
25 Pat Rose 0 0 0 0 0
Total 32 4 5 6 74
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