MECHANICSBURG >> It was on State College’s floor where Spring-Ford lost its opening game of the season to West Chester East in a tip-off tournament.
Fast forward to Saturday, the Rams finally met the beasts themselves, a Little Lions squad ranked No. 11 overall in Pennsylvania (MaxPreps) in a bid to advance to the PIAA Class 6A boys basketball semifinals.
Spring-Ford was up for the test, not trailing once in the second half to coast to a 45-39 win over District 6 champion State College at Mechanicsburg High School on Saturday, punching its ticket to its first ever state semifinal in program history.
FINAL — Spring-Ford 45, State College 39
Spring-Ford’s historic season adds another chapter with its first ever PIAA 6A semifinal appearance in program history.
Rams will take the winner between Reading/New Castle, follow @aHellerReading for updates. pic.twitter.com/1xeBDYXBZf
— Evan Wheaton (@EvanWheaton) March 18, 2023
With the win, the District 1 runner-up Rams (28-3) will face Reading, a 72-48 winner over New Castle in the PIAA 6A semifinals on Tuesday at a time and site to be determined.
“We just focus on winning the game,” senior point guard Caleb Little said. “For us, we just want to win as many games as possible. The season will be over in seven days, so why not win?”
Behind a game-high 22-point outing from sophomore guard Jacob Nguyen and 12 points from junior EJ Campbell, Little carried a big assignment. The senior was tasked with guarding Little Lions (25-3) standout Braeden Shrewsberry.
Shrewsberry — a 6-foot-3 senior shooting guard who’s set to play at Penn State under his father, Nittany Lions coach Micah Shrewsberry — shelled out 26 points in a win over Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the previous round of the state tournament on Wednesday.
According to State College coach Brian Scholly, Shrewsberry, who finished with one 2-point field goal, was battling through an injury sustained in the round of 16.
“He dinged his ankle up towards the end of Central Catholic. We did our best to try and get him ready to roll, but you could tell it was limiting him a little bit and he was pushing through it,” Scholly said. “He gave us everything he could, which I love him for.”
The Little Lions found 18 points from junior forward Isaac Dye and 15 from senior guard Ryan Perks. Dye had nine points in the fourth quarter to close the gap as close as five points behind the Rams at numerous points.
With 16 seconds on the clock and a 43-37 lead for Spring-Ford, Nguyen came down with a defensive rebound and was sent to the line in the process, driving the dagger in to survive and advance.
Neither team led by more than eight points on the day. After Perks beat the buzzer with a corner-three to give State College a 10–9 advantage through the first quarter, a 3-pointer from Nguyen elevated the Rams with a lead that proved permanent, 14-12 early in the second stanza.
“We knew it was going to be a dog fight. We knew that before the game,” Little said. “We just had to run out, play and execute.”
That execution came immediately. Having made just three 3-pointers against Hempfield in the round of 16, Spring-Ford matched that on its first three possessions, flying out to a 9-5 lead to start the game.
The Rams made five 3-pointers on the day, Nguyen accounting for four of them — all in the first half — as Spring-Ford found good looks around the perimeter and established its rhythm early, leading 23-16 at halftime.
“(State College) shoots a lot of threes and I told my guys, ‘If you’ve got one early, take it,” Spring-Ford coach Joe Dempsey said. “We weren’t going to beat these guys just shooting twos, they shoot the three too well. I was very concerned about their 3-point shooting.”
Nearly just as effective from deep, the Little Lions knocked down four buckets from 3-point range, two apiece from Perks and Dye.
The closest State College came was when the Little Lions opened the third quarter on a 5-0 run to cut the game 23-21. Zach Zollers, Campbell, Nguyen and Little combined for eight points to remain ahead, 31-26 entering the final frame.
“I wanted to definitely slow it down a little bit because I think they’re a high-volume team,” Dempsey said. “I thought we rushed a lot against Hempfield and we had some bad possessions. I wanted to get back to being a little more efficient and make sure our possessions were more successful and ended with some points at the end rather than put some bad shots up.”
Q3, 1:25 — Jacob Nguyen digs down the middle to put Spring-Ford up 31-26. pic.twitter.com/2C72E9IMtW
— Evan Wheaton (@EvanWheaton) March 18, 2023
Spring-Ford also steered well clear of foul trouble, limiting State College to 3-of-3 shooting at the stripe while the Rams went 10-of-16 in free throws.
State College last won the state final in 2003 under 4A classification. The squad will graduate eight seniors, highlighted by Shrewsberry.
“I challenged them at the beginning of the year to have as much fun as possible, because that’s what this is all about. I think they definitely did that and then some,” Scholly said. “That’s what makes these types of losses hurt, because they’re ending. But that’s what makes them special.”
Spring-Ford 45, State College 39
State College: Urie 0 0-0 0; Furmanek 1 0-0 2; Shrewsberry 1 0-0 2; Black 1 0-0 2; Perks 6 1-1 15; Dye 7 2-2 18; Morris 0 0-0 0; McKenna 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 3-3 39
Spring-Ford: Campbell 4 3-4 12; Banks 0 0-0 0; Nguyen 6 6-8 22; Zollers 2 1-2 5; Little 1 0-2 2; Johnson 0 0-0 0; Dellangelo 0 0-0 0; Kelly 1 0-0 2; Lewis 1 0-0 2; Pufko 1 0-0 2; McKenna 0 0-0 0. Totals: 15 10-16 45
3-point goals: Perks 2, Dye 2, Campbell, Nguyen 4