Carl Schaller (above) and a junior-heavy Garnet Valley look like a factor in the Central League. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Mitchell Gladstone (@mpgladstone13)
RADNOR — It’s been three weeks since Garnet Valley’s lone loss this season.
And while the Jaguars have been plenty successful in the meantime — ripping off six straight victories by an average margin of more than 20 points — that 69-56 loss at Lower Merion still eats at them.
“We didn’t have a good night,” Garnet Valley coach Mike Brown said of that Dec. 17 matchup. “To be honest, we haven’t talked about it much. … In this league, you play a game every two days.”
For all the progress the Jaguars have made, going from 8-14 five years ago to double-digit victories each of the past four seasons, Garnet Valley is still looking to get over that Central League hump and win a title for the first time since joining the league in 2008.
To do that, it almost certainly means getting past the Aces, who have captured five of the past seven Central League crowns and beaten the Jags in the six games since guard Carl Schaller arrived at Garnet Valley.
“We’ve got to beat Lower Merion. That’s my ultimate goal,” Schaller said. “It’s a sour feeling, but I have confidence we’ll win January 30.”
But between those two critical games lay 14 others, and the Jaguars have just kept rolling, taking out Radnor 66-51 Tuesday night on the road. Schaller was the star for Garnet Valley with its second-leading scorer Neel Beniwal sidelined — the diminutive junior scored 29 points, knocking down four first-half 3-pointers and finishing the night 6-of-11 from the field.
“He’s as good as you’ll see in the Central League, for sure,” Brown said of Schaller. “Tonight, in particular, he showed he’s a good teammate because he took his own opportunities, but he also had a lot of assists. He played a good all-around game.”
The Jaguars jumped out early with a 12-2 run, hitting four of their first six shots, all of which came from beyond the arc.
And that advantage held strong. Although the Raiders continued to fight back, they never got closer than six at any point, and the Jaguars closed out a fourth Central League victory going 7-of-11 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.
But what stood out wasn’t Garnet Valley’s offense. Against a Radnor team that has plenty of scoring threats, the Jags’ defense held down yet another foe — the Raiders scored 20 in the final stanza to get to 51 points on the night, yet shot 11-of-34 in the first three quarters.
“We’ve become a better defensive team than I would’ve projected,” Brown said. “We kind of beat it into them, but they’ve really accepted it.”
Tuesday night, Garnet Valley went with a 2-3 zone, something it hasn’t done much of the year. It worked, though, slowing the pace against a smaller Radnor team and forcing the Raiders into many uncomfortable offensive possessions.
“We all practice really hard and we all really want that Central League title,” Schaller said of his team’s defensive growth. “We’ve been playing for a while together… so when you can play that many games, it’s helpful.”
The heavy lifting for the Jaguars is far from over. Even after beating one top Central League team away from home, they still have to host 11-1 Penncrest before back-to-back road games at Conestoga and Ridley.
Garnet Valley then closes out the month with Lower Merion. So, while there are plenty of challenges ahead, the Jags made sure to enjoy yet another important win.
“We’ve been playing well and you want to continue playing well,” Brown said. “I was almost curious to see how we responded [playing without Beniwal] and we responded real well.”
GV: 19 | 9 | 15 | 23 | 66
Radnor: 10 | 9 | 12 | 20 | 51
GV: 23-44 FG, 10-19 3PT, 10-15 FT
Radnor: 20-47 FG, 6-16 3PT, 5-6 FT
GV : Schaller 29, Apostolopoulos 14, Louden 13, Langan 3, McKee 3, Beauchemin 2, Coyne 2
Radnor: Robinson 16, D’Entremont 13, Lane 8, Dixon 5, Savadore 3, Boujoukos 2, Kim 2, Rosenblum 2