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District 1 Tournament Preview: Academy Park battled through adversity to take final playoff spot

It’s fair to say Academy Park has exceeded coach Ron Bright’s expectations.

After not having a 2021 season due to the pandemic, the Knights qualified for the District 1 Class 5A playoffs as the No. 12 and final seed. It’s been an interesting and at times chaotic journey for the Knights, but here they are, ready to hop on the bus for a district playoff game at Harriton Friday night.

The Knights ran the table in the Del Val League, winning all eight gams. It marked the fourth time since 2017 that AP earned at least a share of the championship.

“I guess you could say that the non-conference schedule kind of prepared us for league play, where we really got going,” Bright said. “We played a lot of tough teams, especially those Central League teams in the beginning, Strath Haven and Penncrest. Of course we dropped a couple of games that we were in, winnable games, but that’s what you get when you’re young and making mistakes and not knowing how to finish games. But for the most part, we’ve been in a lot of games. If you look at the final scores, you can’t always tell, but we were right there and just couldn’t hold on late.

“I didn’t expect it to be as decisive in some of the games, but I felt confident that we would always do well in the league. To go 8-0, that’s actually the first time any of my teams have done that. To go 8-0 is impressive and I was proud of them for it.”

Before the season Academy Park (11-10) had only two players, senior Jada Kinlaw and junior Semaji Young, with prior varsity experience. Kinlaw and Young have been rock-solid all season, but overall AP has managed a winning season thanks to a slew of contributors.

“Kinlaw and Young have willed us off to good starts and in games where we had to finish well,” Bright said. “It seems like every game one of my freshmen steps up and helps out. The other Kinlaw kid, Alaysia, she’s a freshman along with Emani Banks and Kiala Bright. It seems like one of them gives us something, to be that third scorer for us. Jade Wilson is a senior with no prior varsity experience, but she’s been pretty steady.”

They were in enough games to make it this far, good enough to take the 12th seed away from Sun Valley (10-12) in the final days of the regular season.

“The kids are happy they’re still playing,” Bright said.

Harriton (14-8), the No. 5 seed, is led by senior guard and 1,000-point scorer Annie Aspesi

No matter the outcome Friday,. Bright took a team largely consisting of newcomers and turned them into winners in a short period of time. The Knights also had games and practices postponed due to COVID-19 or other reasons beyond their control, but they stuck together and toppled every adverse situation that came their way.

“As far as varsity experience goes, I think we match up (with Harriton),” Bright said. “It’s going to be about our defense and our energy. We’re not going to be a high-scoring team, so if we can stop them from scoring and get quality buckets, we always have a chance.”

Elsewhere in 5A:

No. 6 Radnor (13-8) hosts 11th-seeded Penncrest (10-12) in a first-round game. Tip off is 7 p.m.

The Raptors won both meetings with the Lions during the regular season, but each contest was determined by three points or less.

Paige Yurchak made the winning basket with four seconds to give Radnor a 55-54 win Dec. 14. On Jan. 27, the Raptors stormed back from a 10-point halftime deficit to claim a 47-45 decision.

Radnor’s Paige Yurchak takes a shot against Springfield. Yurchak leads the Raptors against Penncrest in the first round of the District 1 Class 5A playofs. (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group).

Penncrest has received solid play all season from its underclassmen, most notably freshman forward Kathryn Harding and sophomores Emily Huggins and Baily Garrison. Junior guard Kyra Curci has played well, too.

The winner of Penncrest-Radnor travels to No. 3 Upper Moreland in the quarterfinals.

No. 1 Springfield (15-7) and No. 2 Marple Newtown (17-6) received byes to Wednesday’s quarterfinal round. The Cougars await the winner of No. 8 Mount St. Joseph and No. 9 Merion Mercy, while the Tigers play either No. 7 Villa Maria or 10th-seeded Upper Perkiomen.

After losing junior guard Lexi Aaron to a season-ending injury the Cougars have had a difficult time finding offense on a consistent basis. Their steady defense has carried them this far, but if they hope to win a third straight district title, they will need somebody to step up and make shots in the tournament. Kaitlyn Kearney is the best candidate as she has shown the ability to hit from deep and lead the Cougars on the scoreboard.

The Tigers have enjoyed their best season in a long time under coach Ryan Wolski. Led by seniors Nikki Mostardi and Haley Levy the Tigers look to bounce back following their loss to Garnet Valley in the Central League final Monday.

Class 6A

Central League champion and 14th-seeded Garnet Valley (17-7) welcomes No. 19 Hatboro-Horsham (17-8) to town for a 7 o’clock start. The Jaguars have been on a tear since beginning the season with four losses in their first eight games.

Led by freshman Haylie Adamski, the Jags cruised to a 37-22 triumph over Marple Newtown to win the program’s sixth Central League title since 2014. Sophomore Emily Olsen is the Jags’ second-leading scorer and senior guard Ava Possenti has played elite-level defense all season.

If Garnet Valley can survive and advance, it will meet No. 3 Methacton.

No. 9 Haverford (17-5) takes on 24th-seeded Kennett at 7. The Fords have been difficult to assess this year. They had a strong regular season and defeated Garnet Valley but struggled mightily in their Central League semifinal loss to the Jaguars. The Fords will lean on junior forward Caroline Dotsey, junior center Mollie Carpenter and senior guard Emma Rowland.

The winner of Haverford-Kennett travels to No. 8 Downingtown East for a second-round game Tuesday.

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