As Haverford School’s bright start to the 2016-17 season dimmed, coach Bernie Rogers knew in the back of his mind that the process could allow more than one chance at a championship.
Last year’s Fords won 16 of their first 17 games, but the season pivoted in a five-overtime setback at the hands of Germantown Academy Jan. 24. From there, the Fords lost three straight, five of six and six of their final nine to spiral out of the lead in the Inter-Ac, watching GA and archrival Episcopal Academy split the crown and the Fords drought stretch to 17 seasons.
But Rogers knew he had not a single senior among his rotation. He knew, in his second year in charge, that there was more room to grow.
“I think last year we were on such a roll, then we lost the five-overtime game, then lost again, and it’s almost like it’s the first time we got punched in the face,” Rogers said Wednesday. “I think this year when we faced adversity in games, it didn’t bother us.”
This year, the Fords are champions, for the first time since 1999 and second time since 1978. Along the way, they’ve collected a 19-5 record and a 9-0 mark in the league for an outright title. Only Penn Charter stands between them and a perfect run through the league, something the Fords haven’t accomplished since 1937. They could also be the league’s first unbeaten champ since GA in 2013.
And the challenges that Haverford School met a season ago have made the appreciation of this year’s accomplishment sweeter.
“I think going through that adversity helped us get better, helped us realize how important each league game is and that you have to be ready,” Rogers said. “I think the experience of being in close games … they gained a lot of experience last year.”
In just three seasons, Rogers had surmounted what he called “a neat challenge” at a program historically occupying the lower rungs of the Inter-Ac. Rogers arrived from Archbishop Ryan for his first comprehensive job as coach and teacher at the same school, allowing him to develop a deeper relationship with players. Add in a special contingent, led by junior Division I prospect Christian Ray, and senior captains Gavin Burke and Kharon Randolph, and Rogers knew they had a unique mix of basketball specialists and all-around athletes.
Talent, though, hasn’t been the sole determinant of the Fords’ fate. In 2014-15, the year before Rogers arrived, the Fords had three Division I players, two All-Delcos (Lamar Stevens and Shawn Alston), plus a ninth-grade Cameron Reddish who would blossom into one of the top players in the nation this season at Westtown School. But that team shrank from the spotlight of the title race and, like last year’s squad, came up small down the stretch with superior talent.
The team Rogers assembled can lay claim not just to being the league’s most talented but its out-and-out best, a truly undisputed champion.
“I think we just kind of talked up that we had a great year last year — 19-7, 7-3 in the league,” Rogers said. “They could see we were getting better and everyone was back and we were building off of that. We just took each game one at a time. The kids did a good job of getting themselves focused.
“We didn’t talk much about a championship. We just prepared for each game, putting ourselves in positions to win and to control what we can control. We knew if we were ready to play and play together, we were in good shape.”
Simply listing the free-throw percentages can be misleading, since making 80 percent of 20 attempts isn’t as valuable to a team as making 70 percent of 100 attempts. The frequency with which you get to the line matters, too.
With that in mind, I present Sun Valley’s Vinny DeAngelo, who through Tuesday had attempted 182 free throws, knocking them down at an 84.6 percent clip.
But more impressive within the number: DeAngelo has not only gotten to the line in every game, but he’s had 10 games this season where he hasn’t missed a free throw. That hit its apex with a ludicrous 18-for-18 game at the line against Rustin Jan. 23. He’s also twice been 11-for-11, including Tuesday against Pope John Paul II, and has an 8-for-8 and two 7-for-7 games in there.
The statistical perplexity of Michael Perretta’s season for Bonner & Prendergast is wonderful.
The senior guard has a game of 19 points, two games of 15 and four of nine. He has 11 games of three or fewer points. There’s not much middle ground for the 3-point gunner: He’s either on fire or nonexistent. If he makes one shot in a game this season, he’s statistically more likely to finish with five made shots than two.
The ramifications for the Friars are clear. Their three losses? All games where Perretta hasn’t scored. The 19-point outing keyed the upset of Archbishop Wood. He scored 12 when Bonner beat Roman in overtime and 15, including the game-winning 3-pointer in OT, to topple Ryan. So for all that streakiness, there’s an importance to Perretta’s contributions that can’t be ignored: Many of his team-best 36 triples this season have led directly to Bonner wins.
Springfield’s Mike Webb is averaging 24.2 points per game, among the best in Delco. But his kryptonite? Penncrest.
The Lions have the Cougars twice by an average of 28 points. Webb has two games all season where he’s failed to crack double-digits — both against Penncrest. Springfield, which is averaging 56 points per game, has been held to 33 and 38 points by Penncrest.
If you exclude those games of seven and five points against the Lions, Webb’s season average in the other 19 games soars to 26.2 ppg.
To contact Matthew De George, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sportsdoctormd. For an expanded Super 7, visit PaPrepLive.com. Check back next week ahead of the playoffs for final regular-season statistical leaders.