Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
For Malvern Prep to take a massive step towards capturing its first Inter-Ac title in eight years, the Friars needed to beat Episcopal Academy on Tuesday afternoon. And stopping the Churchmen means one thing: stopping Alex Capitano, their Colgate-bound senior wing.
“I mean, he’s scored 57 percent of their points this year,” Malvern Prep coach John Harmatuk quipped. “Most of the stuff they run is for him, and so we thought if we could limit his touches, it’d be a good game plan. And you’ve got to be super-tough to be able to do that job, it’s hard, it’s tiring.
“That’s why we had Keith do it.”
Keith Carra was up to the task. The 6-foot-3 senior guard locked himself on EA’s 6-5 star and didn’t worry about anything else, and the Friars’ defensive plan worked to perfection. The Churchmen offense, frustrated by an inability to get the ball to its centerpiece, couldn’t find enough of a rhythm, and the Friars stayed unbeaten in the Inter-Ac with a 75-62 win.
Capitano finished with 16 points, but only had six during the first three quarters, taking only four shots during that time. He often went multiple possessions without a touch, getting loose for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter but otherwise found himself face-guarded by either Carra or reserve guard Brock Dudek.
At the end of the third quarter, before EA popped in 28 points during an up-and-down closing eight minutes, Malvern Prep held a 54-34 lead.
Malvern Prep's Keith Carra (left) stuck with EA's Alex Capitano (right) all game long. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“My job was basically not to let (Capitano) catch the ball –– if he doesn’t catch the ball, he can’t score,” Carra said. “With the help of my teammates, we executed that really well today, which helped us get the win.”
“We call it ‘Gold,’ where we face guard, you don’t have any help responsibility, just don’t let him catch,’ Harmatuk said. “Keith’s been the rock on our team all year long with his leadership and his toughness and I knew he could do it, and he was great.”
There’s no doubt that defense is Carra’s speciality. His effort and energy on that side of the court were a major reason that Harmatuk noticed Carra while playing CYO for St. Max in West Chester while he was in 8th grade, and it’s been his focal point ever since.
“He’s tough, he’s athletic, he plays super-hard, is motor’s always running,” Harmatuk said. “He’s been the glue to our team this year –– he wasn’t a team captain going into the year, and we made him captain once the season started.”
It comes as no surprise, then, to find that Carra also a defender in his primary sport: lacrosse, which he’ll continue playing next year, at Villanova. And it’s from the Wildcats where he draws some defensive inspiration, for both his sports.
“Villanova basketball, [head coach] Jay Wright does a great job playing defense, and telling their team to play one team defense,” Carra said. “Whenever I watch Villanova, I’m always looking at the defense and how they’re just one unit on the defensive side.
“The communication is...very similar in basketball and lacrosse, and just the help defense,” he added.
Carra’s defensive focus out just fine on a Malvern roster that’s got no shortage of scoring talent, including the Inter-Ac’s new all-time leading scorer, Bucknell commit Deuce Turner, and fellow seniors Spencer Cochran, Fran Oschell, Joe McElwee and junior Rahdir Hicks, any of whom can drop 15-20 points in any game.
“He had always been the defensive kid, athletic, strong, and I’m glad these last two years he’s really been able to get out there and show what he can do,” said Cochran, who led Malvern Prep with 21 points on Tuesday, on just seven shots. “He really completes us as a team and brings that side to our game.”
Spencer Cochran scored 21 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-3 3PT and 4-4 FT. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Turner added 16, McElwee 13, and Oschell 12 in the win over EA. Carra’s four points, two steals, and two assists were just a bonus.
Andrew Alikakos paced Episcopal (9-11, 3-2) with 22 points, chipping in nine rebounds and three assists in a strong all-around effort. Colin Chambers added 13 points and four assists.
The 10th straight victory for Malvern Prep (16-4, 5-0) was much more meaningful than the streak. By beating the only one-loss team in the six-team league, the Friars opened up a two-game gap on the Inter-Ac at the midway point of the league season.
And so far, Malvern Prep isn't just running away with the league, they've dominating; nobody's come closer than EA did Thursday, and it wasn’t that close. The Friars beat Germantown Academy, Penn Charter (SCH Academy and The Haverford School –– last year’s champion, though without most of the core that got them there –– by an average of 23.5 points the first time around.
A team that’s been the clear favorite in the league the whole way, with a group of seniors that have formed almost the entirety of the varsity program for the last four years, is that much closer to fulfilling its destiny.
“Going into the game we said this is going to be the biggest game of the year, because if we won this game, we would be undefeated in the first half and then we would go up two games, have a two-game lead, which is huge going into the second half,” Carra said.
“We’ve worked for this for a long time,” Cochran said. “And [we’re] finally starting to see it on the horizon.”
Malvern Prep: 19 | 18 | 17 | 21 | 75
Episcopal Ac.: 14 | 14 | 6 | 28 | 62
Malvern Prep: 29-52 FG, 5-12 3PT, 12-13 FT
Episcopal Ac.: 24-48 FG, 5-16 3PT, 9-16 FT
Malvern Prep: Cochran 21, Turner 16, McElwee 13, Oschell 12, Hicks 4, Carra 4, White 3
Episcopal Ac.: Alikakos 22, Capitano 16, Chambers 13, Malloy 6, McDaniel 5