WHITEMARSH >> Keith Heinerichs knew that he was signing up for a challenge in scheduling Germantown Academy as the opener for his Haverford team.
What he might not have expected was to head into that encounter without his starting backcourt. Or with a starting lineup consisting of a freshman, a sophomore and a grand total of 71 varsity points scored last year. Or with the idea that he’d hand varsity debuts to five players and the most significant minutes of their high school careers to nearer a dozen Fords.
Understandably, Heinerichs and company were sanguine walking out with a 61-44 loss that contained more positives than the score may indicate.
For one, the Fords started their season by spotting the Patriots the game’s first 16 points and coming within 37 seconds of letting the hosts pitch a first-quarter shutout. The easy view is to observe that 16-point concession as being the difference Friday night, and while that’s overly simplistic, there’s no denying that the team that bumbled through the first quarter stuck around for the next three.
“I tried not to hang my head, but it’s tough when we’re losing by 20 points,” said forward Pat Corbett, who led the way with 11 points plus five assists. “We played hard the whole game. … Second quarter through the rest of the game, I think we played them tough.”
Haverford was missing floor general Jack Donaghy, whose vision enhances the ability of those around him, particularly younger players trying to find their feet at the varsity level. The Fords were also without Matt Corbett, who has a high ankle sprain. Donaghy, recovering from a long, bruising football season, is expected back next week, while Corbett’s timetable is less settled.
Sans those two, the Fords looked uneasy and young in the first quarter. They committed turnovers on three of their first five possession en route to 18 on the day. They struggled to read GA’s sophisticated and fundamentally-sound offensive sets, leading to back-door layups and easy transition buckets. And sometimes, they were just run by or over by more physical, experienced players like Penn commit Devon Goodman (13 points, five assists, three steals) or Evan-Eric Longino (12 points).
“Everyone has butterflies in their stomach, but it’s a great opportunity to get better against a team with some top-level players,” sophomore Matt McMahon, one of the varsity debutants, said. “It’s just a great opportunity.”
After shaking out the early nerves, the Fords got going. They went 7-for-16 from 3-point range. They generated good looks against a GA team that played most of their regulars for three and a half quarters — although Goodman et al. didn’t have to log quite as many minutes as on a more competitive nigh. The Fords even had success against a 2-1-2 zone in the fourth quarter that featured 6-10 Joe Stinson in the middle.
The division of labor spread the scoring burden for GA. Bailey Whitman hit three 3-pointers en route to 11 points. Gabe Alter was 4-for-4 from the field for eight points. But more important for a Patriots team with lofty aspirations of repeating as Inter-Ac champions, the game provided a chance to mix and match, getting minutes for different personnel combinations for a squad that hopes to deploy a rotation of 10 to 12 players.
“Being able to go 12 to 13 guys deep in a game like this, it’s helpful for the coaching staff to see what guys can work together,” Alter said. “Some of the guys have been together since sixth grade, so he already knows. But some of the freshmen, some of the younger guys, being able to get them some minutes with some different guys is a good thing.”
By the time Jim Fenerty cleaned out his bench, the Fords had played GA to within single-digits over two and a half quarters. Connor Guilfoil, the only player who dressed and averaged more than a point per game last year, scored six points. McMahon drained a pair of triples. Isaiah Hart swatted away a couple of shots and collected five points, while Jamie Gillen canned a 3-pointer for his five points. Even freshman Kevin DePrince, who got the start, hit a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.
The mantra from the bench, above all, was to continue to compete. And accomplishing that task provides reason for belief.
“As the season goes on, we’re going to come together as a team,” Pat Corbett said. “We played all summer together, but I think we’re going to get better. I’m not worried about it.”