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Smith: With hoops on hold, there’s plenty to cherish already in 2020

Dakota McCaughan, here running down court after hitting a 3-pointer in the Central League final, gave Ridley plenty to celebrate this season en route to a league title. (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group)

A popular GIF of Jim Carrey from the comedy movie Dumber & Dumber has traveled the Twittersphere for years now.

You know the one. It’s the clip of a goofy Carrey saying, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

The PIAA more or less provided its basketball players with that ever-so-slight feeling of hope this week. In a letter posted on its website Monday, the PIAA noted that winter championships remain “on hold” as Pennsylvania schools remain closed, per Governor Tom Wolf’s directive, for an additional two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

So, there is indeed a chance that we’ll see six Delco teams — Archbishop Carroll girls, Bonner-Prendergast boys and girls, Cardinal O’Hara girls, Chester Charter Scholar Academy boys, and Chester boys — resume their quests for PIAA titles sometime this spring.

A very, very small chance.

In the meantime, we must kill more time from our social distancing caves. Let’s take a deep dive into some of the best Delco hoops stories of the 2019-20 campaign.

Girls

Springfield captures District 1 title >> For the second time in four seasons, the Cougars claimed the Class 5A championship. Senior guard Alyssa Long made 11 free throws in the fourth quarter to propel the Cougars to a grueling 29-27 decision over Great Valley.

Led by Long and juniors Alyssa Abbonizio and Rachel Conran, Springfield made it all the way to the second round of the PIAA tournament, where the Cougars suffered a season-ending loss to Gettysburg. Nonetheless, few programs in Delco have been more successful over the last four years than Springfield, which won one Central League and two Distirct 1 titles over that span.

Ridley wins Central League >> It was a dream season for the Green Raiders under first-year coach Roe Falcone, the former Ridley great and Delco Athletes Hall of Famer. The addition of senior guard Dakota McCaughan, who transferred from Bonner-Prendergast, bolstered the Raiders’ outlook. Ridley went 15-1 in league play and earned the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, cruising to the Central League title with a 62-52 win over previously unbeaten Springfield. While Ridley failed to win a game in the District 1 Class 6A tournament, claiming top honors in the Central League was a tremendous feat for a program that had struggled mightily in recent years. Ridley’s 21 victories is its most since the 2006-07 campaign.

Penn Wood outlasts Marple Newtown in six OTs >> This one made you pinch yourself to make sure you weren’t in some kind of twisted dream. It was the game of the year in Delco girls hoops, if for no other reason than it never wanted to end. The Tigers and Patriots put on a classic in their District 1 Class 5A tournament first-round contest.

Penn Wood senior Jada Hutt had 29 points, 20 rebounds. MN sophomore Haley Levy poured in a career-high 34 points. There were multiple buzzer-beating 3-pointers made by Marple’s Brooke Impriano. The teams combined for 58 field goals, 54 turnovers and 49 personal fouls, an experience no player who was involved will forget anytime soon.

Boys

Strath Haven’s epic turnaround >> The Panthers posted a 17-11 record and earned a state tournament berth for the first time in nine years. Not bad for a program in shambles just one year ago when it managed a grand total of three wins.

A lot of credit can be heaped on rookie head coach Chris Conlan and his staff. Conlan took the gig at Strath Haven following a handful of seasons learning from one of the best in the county, Mike Doyle at Penncrest. In the first round of states, the Panthers for one half gave Archbishop Wood a real scare. Nevertheless, it was a memorable season for the Panthers, who should be among the top dogs in the Central League next winter.

Honorable mention goes to Garnet Valley. While the Jags were a proven winner and qualified for districts in recent years, they put forth a 21-win campaign this winter and made the PIAA tournament for the first time in 23 years. Junior guard Carl Schaller was named the Central League’s most valuable player.

Haverford ends half-century title drought >> Who saw this coming? The Fords were one of the best stories in Delco, upsetting Garnet Valley in the Central League playoffs en route to winning the championship for the first time in 50 years.

Haverford went on to beat Ridley in the first round of the District 1 Class 6A tournament before losing its final two games. The turnaround transpired midseason for the Fords, who endured losses in eight of 10 games, including a stretch of six consecutive setbacks that would’ve buried most teams. At one point, they were 2-7 in the Central League and in desperate need of answers. The Fords eventually hit their stride thanks to their tough-as-nails defense and a blossoming floor general junior John Seidman, who was hampered by injuries in districts. Haverford had reeled off 11 straight wins before falling to Chester in the district playoffs.

Chester’s emotional ride >> No moment will top this one.

One day after the shooting death of Chester player Edward Harmon Jr., the Clippers played Simon Gratz in the second round of the PIAA Class 6A tournament. With heavy hearts, the Clippers erased a double-digit halftime deficit and won in walk-off fashion. Zahmir Carroll’s deep 3-point basket as time expired lifted Chester to an emotional, 63-62 win.

It’s always state title-or-bust at Chester High, but Carroll’s miracle shot gave the Clippers a perfect alternative for a storybook ending.

To contact Matt Smith, email msmith@delcotimes.com or follow him on Twitter @DTMattSmith.

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