Graham Foley (@Graham_Foley3)
Girard College High School and the Faith Christian Academy both won in similar fashions on Saturday to get to the PIAA Class A semifinals.
Faith Christian (27-4) took down the undefeated St. John Neumann by a final of 44-43. The Lions hit a go-ahead jump shot with 29 seconds left, though it wasn’t until after St. John Neumann missed two missed free throws with just seconds left on the clock that the victory was sealed.
“We were ecstatic,” head coach Tony DaCosta said about his team’s close triumph over one of the pre-tournament favorites. “I think the guys showed resiliency. They really absorbed the momentum, battled down the stretch, and made big plays when they needed to.”
It took overtime for Girard (23-8) to survive and advance on Saturday. The Cavaliers won a tight, high scoring affair 75-72 on over District 3 champs York Country Day School. Freshman forward Mikeal Jones led the way scoring a team-high 28 pts in what was a test of endurance.
“It was a really tough game but the type of game we expected,” head coach Clyde Jones said. “It’s a tribute to those guys. They really played hard and they really played for each other.”
Now both teams will face off against each other at Spring-Ford HS (tip-off: 6:00 PM) with their seasons hanging in the balance and history on the line. Girard College has not been this far in the state tournament since it won the state title in 2009, while Faith Christian has never ventured this deep into the state playoffs.
And this is not the first time these two squads have faced off against each other this season.
On Mar. 4, Girard College dominated Faith Christian Academy in the District 1 Class A Championship game, winning by a final of 72-40. In the victory, Jones and junior guard Daiquan Copeland finished with a combined 48 pts
Coming off such a lopsided victory could give a team a sense of overconfidence. But Jones feels that will not be an issue for his team.
“I preach to my kids that every game is its own entity and what happens before has no relevance on what could possibly happen,” Jones said. “They are starting to understand that it doesn’t matter that we played the before, we are looking at them like a new opponent.
“The only thing that is good about playing them before is that we won’t be surprised at how well they play,” he added.
“I don’t think we competed well the first time we played them,” DaCosta said. “I think that had to do a lot with their quickness and speed. We need to come prepared to fight and prepared to do the thing necessary to pull out a victory."
Faith Christian is led by a core group of experienced upperclassmen.
Senior forward Zeke Snowden, a captain for the Lions, comes in as the team’s top scorer averaging “around 14-15 points per game,” according to DaCosta. Snowden also leads the team in rebounding, DaCosta said, averaging 6.1 per game. While he has not committed anywhere, Snowden has “gotten looks” from schools like D-IIIs Penn State Abington, Gwynedd Mercy, Arcadia, Roberts Wesleyan, and D-II Nyack College, according to his coach.
While Snowden’s numbers are great, DaCosta said they do not show how effective of a player he really is.
“Zeke knows not only how to be a senior but also how to be a leader,” DaCosta said. “Leaders’ jobs are to serve the team and sacrifice some things. And he has been very good at sacrificing. He’s been a selfless player and I think it’s been a good example for some of our other players”
Snowden is aided by his two fellow captains, junior guard Charles Ervin and junior center Landon Coyle who often reach in double digits in scoring.. Senior forward Miki Vitek rounds out the offense as a true shooting guard who provides a mismatch on the post.
Girard College, on the other hand, is led by a group of talented young guns with no seniors on the roster.
Junior guard Daiquan Copeland leads the way as one of the most experienced players on the court for Girard. He averages 20 ppg and despite playing with what Jones called a “severely sprained ankle”, Copeland added 21 points in Saturday’s win. Jones said they needed every one of them.
“We’re hoping on him playing Monday,” Jones said. “He gave us a little gutty effort Saturday but he is really banged up. But the nature of this kid allows him to play at a high level. His will and his desire is just different. He is a kid who has just led us with how hard he plays and how he competes.”
Other young players star on the court for the Cavaliers. Jones said junior Craig Logan has played well down the stretch and is the the defense’s primary leader. Sophomore point guard Kasim Toliver runs the offense and can make perfect passes when needed, despite not scoring a lot.
Mikeal Jones, the freshman phenom, leads the team in offense, averaging 22 ppg. The 6-foot-8 wing forward scored 29 pts in the team’s 73-30 playoff victory on Mar. 10 against West Shore Christian Academy and 22 in the team’s 75-52 win over Our Lady of Lourde’s Regional High on Mar. 16.
In the team’s victory on Saturday, he was 12-of-16 from the field.
Point guard Aquil Stewart, another freshman, hit 40 3-point shots this season and can get a bucket when the defense collapses on Jones taking a lot of pressure off of the top-scorer.
The team’s lack of experience does not phase Jones. He knows their talent and the work his fellow coaches are enough to get them through a tough postseason.
“When you lack experience it comes down to trusting your training and your discipline,” Jones said. “My kids have been able to follow a gameplan and they really trust each other and the coaching staff. It’s been really good to watch.”