Rahdir Hicks (above) and an experienced Malvern Prep lived up to expectations by capturing the Inter-Ac title. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
When the final buzzer rang in the gym at Springside-Chestnut Hill, the group of Malvern Prep players standing around midcourt didn’t do much more than smile. There were a few handshakes, some low-fives, then right to the handshake line and down to the locker room.
There was basically zero indication of any sort that the Friars had just captured the Inter-Ac championship for the first time in eight years, well before any of the current members of the team had even thought about where they’d be playing their high school ball.
To call the celebration “understated” wouldn’t even describe it –– there was barely anything that happened that one could call a celebration, at least on the court.
“I mean, we were definitely excited,” junior forward Fran Oschell said. “Might not have been the biggest, most grand situation, no confetti falling from the ceiling, but I think it definitely meant a lot to all of our guys, which was awesome.
“I think it’s hard to really express openly out on the court how excited we really are, just because I think we also have a lot of class on our team, a lot of guys who play the game the right way, and we’d never want to show anybody up.”
“I don’t know, I guess it’s kind of weird,” junior guard Rahdir Hicks added. “We’ve got two more games after this, so obviously we’re excited, because it’s the first one since 2012, but now the goal is 10-0 in the league, and just like to push our legacy, and then getting into states after that. So we’re just looking the next step ahead.”
Malvern Prep’s eight-year Inter-Ac drought had seemed all but certain after the Friars went through the first half of the league schedule without a game closer than 13 points, having opened up a two-game advantage on the rest of the six-team private school league by that point in the round-robin rotation. They’d been the league favorites from the preseason anyways, a notion that was only furthered along by a Haverford School squad that was decimated first from graduation and then injuries off its undefeated league and state championship run a year ago.
That’s due to a senior-laden core including four-year starters in Bucknell commit Deuce Turner, point guard Spencer Cochran, and Hicks, who began at Malvern Prep as a member of the 2020 class but repeated his freshman year and is now a junior. Throw in Oschell, a Duke commit on the baseball field but a solid high school big man who’s in his third year in the lineup, plus experienced reserves Lonnie White and Joe McElwee, both seniors, and this had always seemed like John Harmatuk’s team to get over the hump in his seventh season.
So the Friars (21-4, 8-0) rolled into SCH’s gym Friday night plenty confident. But the Blue Devils (12-10, 5-3) were the ones who threw the first punch, and it was a big one, an 18-8 second quarter after leading by one after the first. That 11-point halftime lead grew into a 15-point advantage early in the third, and it looked like SCH might make Malvern Prep wait another game to earn its title, and possibly even until the end of the season to earn it outright.
The Blue Devils forced one Malvern Prep turnover after another, answering the Friars’ desire to play an uptempo game with a relentless attack of their own.
SCH seniors Ke’Shawn Williams (23 points/3 rebounds), Delonce Hines (14 points/4 assists), David Robinson (8 points/14 rebounds) and Jared Sprague-Lott (6 points/5 rebounds/4 steals/3 assists) all were key pieces during the half, as was reserve Bobby Markey (11 points), who hit two key treys during the second quarter.
“We [though] would just show up, and Chestnut Hill punched us in the face,” Harmatuk said. “We have had some kind of lackadaisical efforts in parts of games, then got 20-point leads and I think have been over-comfortable with ourselves. It’s working right now, but I knew it was soon going to bite us in the (behind), so we actually needed that half.”
Fran Oschell (above) scored all 15 of his points after halftime during Malvern Prep's big comeback. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Hicks led the comeback effort in the second half, coming up with several big defensive plays of his own that he turned into layups on the other end. Oschell, who finished 15 points and seven rebounds, scored all of his points during the second half, and Hicks added 12 of his 15 after intermission.
All-in-all, it was a 22-2 run that turned a 49-37 deficit with 3:37 left in the third quarter into a 59-51 lead with three minutes remaining. SCH Academy recovered at that point, but couldn't get any closer than five.
“Rahdir single-handedly got us back in the game in the third quarter,” Harmatuk said. “He’s the best defensive player, period, and he was everywhere. And that got everybody else motivated.”
“It looked like we were lacking energy, and it would never look like we were really concerned about the score, but I knew the way they play, they play hard, so I had to match their energy and lift my team up,” Hicks said. “I just tried to get to the basket, get some steals, just keep the team going, and once everybody else got locked in, we were fine.
“Once I looked up at the scoreboard and it was like five [points], four or five, and then I think Deuce and Fran came in,” he added, “and I looked at them and it’s like ‘we’re here, come on, we need you guys.’ And then everybody started turning it on.”
Turner, who led all scorers with 24 points, only had one bucket in the second half –– a 3-pointer during the comeback run –– but was 9-of-12 from the foul line in the second half after hitting his only freebie in the first half.
Cochran added eight points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Malvern Prep has two games to go to finish off its unbeaten Inter-Ac goal, playing the Haverford School on the road next Tuesday and finishing with Episcopal Academy at home next Friday night. After that, the Friars will certainly be one of the top seeds in the Pennsylvania Independent School Athletic Association (PAISAA) tournament, where they’ll have to take down some combination of Westtown, Phelps, Hill, Perkiomen, and other Inter-Ac/Friends Schools to win the state title.
If they manage to do all of that, will they celebrate then?
“Absolutely,” Oschell said.
Malvern Prep: 17 | 8 | 24 | 20 | 69
SCH Academy: 18 | 18 | 15 | 13 | 64
Malvern Prep: 23-49 FG, 6-15 3PT, 17-24 FT
SCH Academy: 25-63 FG, 6-18 3PT, 8-11 FT
Malvern Prep: Turner 24, Oschell 15, Hicks 15, Cochran 8, White 5, Carra 2
SCH Academy: Williams 23, Markey 11, Robinson 8, Sprague-Lott 6, Isaac 2