PHILADELPHIA — When the COVID-19 pandemic started and our staff tried to devise how to cover sports when there were no sports to cover, an idea was hatched. Thus, three Marches ago, “Delco Madness” sprung to life, a chance to weigh the top boys and girls basketball teams in Delaware County history against one another, across time and eras.
There may never be an update to that pantheon, and if there is, God forbid it should come under similar circumstances. But consider the Radnor boys basketball team of 2022-23 fast-tracked for inclusion.
It’s about the only metric that can begin to encapsulate what this season has been for the Raptors, the latest installment Saturday’s 61-36 dismantling of Unionville in the District 1 Class 5A final.
Radnor has routed all comers. PIAA competition lies ahead of them, with all the pitfalls that the bloated tournament contains. But Saturday, Radnor cemented a place among Delco’s all-time elite.
The Raptors’ journey to 27-0 is book-ended by trips up North Broad Street. Last year, an overtime loss, behind 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds of both regulation and overtime by Chester and 17 missed free throws made for a teary Temple ending.
With just about every notable piece from that team back, the goal was obvious.
“We put it on the board since Day 1, Central League, districts, states,” junior wing Michael Savadove said. “It’s so special, especially after the outcome. We were all in tears last year. It was not a good feeling. We really looked to bounce back from Day 1.”
Their path back has been anything but ordinary. Radnor is 27-0, winning by an average of 21.0 points per game, on the way to a first Central League title. The Raptors have as many postseason tournament titles as games decided by single digits (two).
So monstrous is their dominance that they might have betrayed a sliver of joy when coach Jamie Chadwin called timeout at 5:25 of the second quarter and his team trailing 21-15. There’s a sense that the team hasn’t yet been pushed to its full capability, since every team that applies pressure inevitably ends up 20 points back.
Radnor has developed a penchant for second-half runs, but it scheduled an early end on Saturday: A 19-0 run to end the first half, capped by a Cooper Mueller corner 3-pointer. Another 11-0 run between the third and the fourth quarters and a 42-13 margin over the second and fourth quarters combined turned the final challenge into another landslide.
“We’re not too worried in that moment,” Mueller said. “We know our team. We know the strength of our team. We just go out there, we’re like we’ve got to start locking in on defense, started upping the pressure and started running up and down the court.”
The offense was at times beautiful, back cuts and ball movement borne of an otherworldly feel for where teammates are at all times, honed from years playing together back to elementary school. The defense was relentlessly gritty, Mueller’s eight steals and double that in deflections leading to 20 Unionville turnovers. Radnor had seven players score in the first half; Unionville had two starters that didn’t score all day and one who hit the first basket of the game and nothing further. As much as Unionville battled in the first half, its efforts yielded single-digit leads. When Radnor put the foot down, the margin multiplied rapidly.
A telling sequence happened in the third quarter. Radnor didn’t score for the first 5:03 of the half, allowing the Longhorns to trim a 13-point deficit to five. Charlie Thornton was held down by foul trouble, and starting point guard Danny Rosenblum didn’t make a field goal.
So with Radnor up six, Thornton got the ball in iso on the left wing. Instead of taking a contested 2-pointer just inside the arc, he waited for players to move off ball. Savadove, who’d passed it to him, circle cut under the basket, received a pass, baited his defender into the air and banked in an easy basket.
“We’ve played with each other so long that we know what each other is going to do,” said Savadove, the defensive specialist who scored nine points. “We have signals, that’s the stuff that opens up everything. We get that backdoor, it opens up 3s, it opens up (Jackson) Hicke, it opens up everything.”
Saturday, so many of the instruments in the orchestra harmonized. Jackson Gaffney provided 11 points off the bench. Unionville’s defense picked its poison; when that meant Gaffney had a weaker defender, he made them pay. Hicke took over when needed, especially in the third with Radnor’s offense lacking direction. The Princeton signee scored 18 points, right on his season average, including a pair of not-to-be-denied drives to the glass to stabilize the lead in the third.
Twenty-seven games of film haven’t shown a way to stop Radnor, behind the evergreen hope that its shots won’t fall. The road ahead has pitfalls in the PIAA’s Class 5A tourney, and there’s limited historical analogue for teams like Imhotep Charter in the pre-2009 PIAA history. But whenever the run ends, there’s nothing states can do to overshadow a season for the ages.
“We walked in and we said, this doesn’t get old,” Chadwin said. “This is what we want to make the habit and the routine of Radnor basketball … playing in games like this.”
Contact Matthew De George at email@example.com; you can follow him on Twitter @sportsdoctormd.
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