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Plymouth Whitemarsh, Spring-Ford to clash for District 1-6A championship

Plymouth Whitemarsh's Jaden Colzie (1) puts up a shot against Central Bucks East during the Suburban One League Tournament final on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

Plymouth Whitemarsh point guard Jaden Colzie has had high expectations for his junior season for a while now. Last year he watched the Colonials girls basketball team go undefeated and win Suburban One League Liberty Division, SOL Tournament, District 1-6A and PIAA-6A state championships and the then-sophomore set the bar for his team as high as it can get.

“Last year I was actually really jealous of the girls because they were literally winning everything,” Colzie said a few weeks ago. “I’m like, ‘Next year I’m getting that.’”

So far, Colzie, who wants to go 4-for-4 on championships, has been spot on. Plymouth Whitemarsh already has SOL Liberty and SOL Tournament championships and is heading to the District 1-6A final. The third-seeded Colonials will face No. 1 Spring-Ford at Temple University’s Liacouras Center Saturday at 6 p.m.

Coincidentally, it was Spring-Ford that the PW girls basketball team beat on the Liacouras Center floor last March to win the district championship, 49-31.

Colzie, classmate Chase Coleman and senior Qudire Bennett have been the driving force behind the Colonials 26-2 record, which includes 19 straight wins. In six postseason victories – three in the SOL Tournament and three in the District 1-6A playoffs – Bennett is averaging 21.3 points per game while Coleman is pouring in 17 and Colzie 14.5. Bennett, a 1,000-point scorer, has surpassed 20 points in five of the six games and Coleman delivered when needed most, scoring 26 points in a 64-62 win over Penn Wood in the second round of districts.

Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Qudire Bennett (23) goes up for a shot against North Penn during their District 1-6A quarterfinal on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023 (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

While the three versatile offensive threats dominate the box score most nights, Plymouth Whitemarsh gets key contributions from other places. Senior center Lincoln Sharpe is a menace on the offensive and defensive glass and junior wing Jahseir Sayles plays strong defense and is an outside shooting threat.

Jimmy Flowers, Ben Marsico and Rodney Willis come off the bench and each adds something unique for the Colonials. Flowers plays tight defense, Marsico’s a sharp-shooter who has hit clutch free throws and Willis uses his 6-foot-8 frame to his advantage on both ends of the floor.

Through the district playoffs, PW got past Penn Wood with a two-point win before beating North Penn by 30 and going on the road to knock off two-time defending district champion Lower Merion by six.

The Colonials are looking for the seventh District 1 championship in program history and second under Hall of Fame head coach Jim Donofrio, who won his 500th game earlier this season. Donofrio guided PW to a district title in 2016 and additional championship game appearances in 2007, 2010, 2015 and 2018.


Spring-Ford head coach Joe Dempsey directs a player during the PAC championship game on Feb. 14, 2023. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

While Spring-Ford (25-2) is making its District 1-6A final debut, it’s familiar territory for second-year coach Joe Dempsey.

Dempsey previously coached La Salle High School from 2004-18, reaching the PIAA tournament four times with a 4A state final appearance in 2014. He was also named the 2010 Catholic League Coach of the Year and was an assistant for Lower Merion, having won the District 1-6A final in 2021.

The Rams and Dempsey have grown with one another the past two years and the proof is evident.

“I think they gave me a certain level of respect when I got hired here. But at the same time, I learned a long time ago as a teacher, you can’t fool the kids,” Dempsey said. “If you don’t care about them personally, if you don’t know what you’re doing, they’re gonna call you out on it.
“If I don’t come in everyday and work hard, I don’t care where I coached before or how much success I had, that wouldn’t have happened. It’s always been about them and their willingness to respond to what we’ve wanted to do.”

The Rams, who won the Pioneer Athletic Conference Liberty Division and PAC championship, enter the district final after amassing a 20-game winning streak through the regular season before dropping their regular-season finale to Perkiomen Valley.

They’ve had a pretty comfortable trip through the district bracket, beating West Chester Henderson by eight, Garnet Valley by 18 and Downingtown West by 14.

Spring-Ford’s EJ Campbell dribbles in the half court as Upper Merion’s Zayd Etheridge defends during the PAC championship game on Feb. 14 at Spring-Ford. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

In the 66-52 semifinal win over Downingtown West, junior guard EJ Campbell led Spring-Ford with 27 points on 8-of-8 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line. Sophomore guard Jacob Nguyen added 16 points, and put up 25 in the PAC championship as well.

“To get where we’ve gone, you gotta have at least two scorers and we’re sort of scoring by committee in a lot of respects after those two,” Dempsey said. “You’re not gonna be successful and win 25 games at the high school level if you don’t have kids picking each other up.”

Zach Zollers, Alex Lewis and Tommy Kelly provide a stout frontcourt for Spring-Ford, all standing at 6-foot-2 (Kelly at 6-foot-4) who can give the Rams second-chance points.

Senior point guard Caleb Little also highlights the starting rotation and provides a key piece to Spring-Ford’s depth.

“We’ve been able to keep EJ off the ball because Caleb Little has had such a good year,” Dempsey said. “I think it’s benefited EJ with his scoring, he hasn’t gotten worn down to run the point and be one of our top scorers.”

Get live updates during the game on Twitter by following @ADRobinson3, @EvanWheaton and @AustinHertzog

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