— As it became more and more evident, it became more and more shocking. The time was winding down on what in Pennsylvania over the last three years had been nearly impossible — beating state powerhouse Chester.
Chester had won 78 straight games against in-state opponents, dating back to March 14, 2010, a first-round state playoff loss to La Salle.
As they raised their arms in exaltation, it was Lower Merion (Ardmore, Pa.)
that did it Saturday night in one of the more memorable upsets in Pennsylvania state championship history, unseating two-time defending PIAA Class AAAA state champion Chester, 63-47, at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa.
Syracuse-bound B.J. Johnson
led the way, scoring a game-high 22 points, as the Aces (30-3 overall) shot an impressive 21 of 43 from the field, and 5-for-8 from three-point range.
Chester, ranked No. 12 by MaxPreps
, saw its three-year in-state winning streak come to a screeching halt and ended the season 28-4 overall. The last three years, the Clippers had an amazing 91-5 overall mark and were 78-1 against in-state opponents.
A little slice of Chester's dominance: Chester had won 78 straight games against Pennsylvania opponents, 71 by double digits; Chester had won 29-straight playoff games; Chester beat Lower Merion twice in 2012 twice (61-53 in district title game and 59-33 in state title game) and once in 2013 (60-46 in district title game).
The credit goes to Lower Merion, its amazing coach, Gregg Downer, who captured his third state title, and to seniors like Johnson, Raheem Hall
, Yohanny Dalembert
and Baird Howland
It marked the seventh state title for Lower Merion, Kobe Bryant's alma mater and the only other team Bryant ever played for, aside from the Lakers (state titles in 1933, 1941, 1942, 1943, Bryant's 1996 team, 2006 and 2013).
It was players like Howland, who hit two huge three-pointers and came up with a clutch steal, and Hall, who handled Chester's pressure exceptionally well, that made it possible.
"We wanted to change silver into the gold in the worst way, and Chester has been a roadblock for us for more than a year. They had won [78-straight in-state games] in a row for a reason," said Downer, who was masterful, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Chester, with 2-3, 2-1-2, and 1-3-1 zones that frustrated the Clippers. "We didn't have to beat them seven out of 10 times. We just had to beat them once, and that was tonight. We were going to find a way to get it done.
"We had 10 amazing seniors who really came through for us, some who have been playing for us for three years. Baird was an unsung hero for us, Raheem Hall, it was really everyone that contributed to this."
Howland's trey from the corner with 2:59 left gave the Aces a 21-20 lead and was the seventh — and last — lead change of the game.
Chester, meanwhile, struggled. The Clippers shot an abysmal 19 of 60 and were an awful 1 for 13 from beyond the arc. The Clippers couldn't have picked a worst time to put in a clunker.
"We had an unbelievable run and we got here three years in a row, and it's what I told my team after the game," said Chester coach Larry Yarbray, who's the first and only Chester coach to win consecutive state titles. "Tonight wasn't our night. We were a step slow, over-dribbled, dribbled out of bounds. We were a totally different team."
Rondae Jefferson, Chester's Arizona-bound star, finished with 12 points on 4 of 14 shooting. Everywhere Jefferson went, Lower Merion was watching.
"That was the key, shutting him down and [Chester's other star, Richard] Granberry down," Johnson said. "We lost to Chester three times before, and each time we said we would get them next time and refocus. This time, we were really focused and that showed tonight. We rolled the dice with our defense, and the dice was in our favor."Class AAA
Imhotep Charter (Philadelphia) 54, Archbishop Carroll (Radnor) 45
The Panthers claimed their third-straight state title — this time at the Class AAA level (Imhotep Charter was the two-time defending Class AA state champions).
Providence-bound Brandon Austin
closed an amazing career and senior year for Imhotep Charter, winning the Philadelphia Public League championship, then topping it off with a game-high 25 points in winning the state championship.
The Class AAA state semifinals looked like a rematch of the Philadelphia District 12 (city) championship, but Neumann-Goretti suffered a 55-50 upset loss to Donegal in the state quarterfinals.
Still, the Panthers (28-5) had to battle another District 12 team, Carroll (23-7), the 2009 Class AAA state champions, who snuck in from the western side of the stae.
The game was tied at 26-26, before the Panthers took control with a 12-4 run to begin the third quarter.Class AA
Beaver Falls 69, Holy Cross (Dunmore) 63
Beaver Falls, the alma mater of NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath, clawed and rallied from 46-36 deficit in the third quarter to win.
The Tigers won their fourth state champion, after winning titles in 1970, 1994 and 2005. Beaver Falls used a balanced attack, getting a team-high 15 points from Drew Cook
, 14 each from Mason Micoy
and Danny Stratton
and 12 from Elijah Cottrill
led Holy Cross with a game-high 25 on 7 of 13 shooting.
Beaver Falls outscored Holy Cross 28-15 in the fourth quarter.Class A
Vaux (Philadelphia) 83, Johnsonburg 63
It was a nice going-away present for Vaux, which will be closing at the end of the school year — and for its star, Rysheed Jordan
, who was arguably the best player of the tournament — at any level.
Jordan, one of the nation's best guards still uncommitted, scored a game-high 32 on 14 for 20 shooting, followed by 22 from backcourt mate Sammy Forman
Johnsonburg pressed the matter in the first half, leading 37-36. Then Jordan took over. He made 7-of-8 in the second half en route to 16 points — and the Cougars pulled away.
Jordan, who is considering Temple, St. John's and UCLA, will make his college decision on Monday, April 15.Joseph Santoliquito is a frequent MaxPreps contributor and Philadelphia-based writer. He may be reached at email@example.com