Hunter Kraiza (above) had six 3-pointers as Haverford won the Central League for the first time since 1970. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Mitchell Gladstone (@mpgladstone13)
BRYN MAWR — In the final minutes Tuesday night, Keith Heinerichs had to tell Hunter Kraiza to stop shooting.
Not that he had any problem with what Kraiza had done to that point — the junior had already drilled six triples and scored a game-high 20 points. Heinerichs just wanted his team to get into the double bonus.
A few made free throws later and for the first time in 50 years, Haverford High boys’ basketball was a league champion.
The Fords completed an impressive run through the Central League playoffs, capping three wins in the span of four days with a 49-40 victory against Penncrest at Harriton. Like on Monday against Garnet Valley and throughout its eight-game league winning streak to close the year, Haverford did its damage on defense, limiting the Lions to 35 percent shooting from the field and controlling the pace of the game.
Put it all together and the Fords were cutting down the nets by night’s end. But it wasn’t something even they could’ve predicted as recently as a month ago.
“We all came together as a team,” Kraiza said when asked how Haverford got its season back on track. “The losses were close ones, so we learned how to win in those situations.”
How bad had it gotten? The Fords went winless for nearly a month — after beating Kennett Dec. 28, Haverford lost seven straight, dropping to 2-7 in league play (6-8 overall) after a loss to Harriton on Jan. 14.
That was the nadir.
“We just kept talking about, ‘We can beat anybody or lose to anybody on our schedule. What do you want to do?’” Heinerichs said. “The kids were what kept me going.”
Although the Fords’ coach didn’t want to make it personal, there was some irony in Tuesday’s matchup. The last time Heinerichs made a Central League final, he was the coach at Ridley and lost to a Mike Doyle-coached Penncrest team.
The same couldn’t be said this time around, thanks to a balanced effort and a group that each played its part.
“I was the one coming into practice and their energy and their enthusiasm to be around one another and have fun kept me positive and excited about coaching them,” Heinerichs said.
Keith Heinrichs (above, right) last coached in the Central League championship in 2010, when he was the head coach at Ridley. But his Raiders lost to Penncrest. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Haverford junior John Seidman (above) cuts down the nets at Harriton after the Fords' Central League victory. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
One night after it was John Seidman who dominated the offense, Haverford’s standout didn’t do much in terms of points. Yet, despite shooting 1-of-8 from the field, Seidman still managed to play a critical role, pulling down nine rebounds
The same could be said for the two other seniors in the Fords’ rotation — Sean Reynolds and John Scheivert combined for just 12 points but grabbed seven more boards.
And that opened the door for a pair of younger players, Kraiza and sophomore Nick Colucci, to take advantage of Penncrest from long distance. Together, they scored 32 of Haverford’s 49 points and hit on eight of their 12 3-point tries.
For Kraiza, it came on the heels of a game in which he’d hit perhaps the most crucial shot — a press-breaking corner triple to put a dagger in top-seeded Garnet Valley.
But it wasn’t necessarily the momentum from Monday that propelled the junior. He just knew he was feeling it from the time he stepped out onto the floor Tuesday.
“It’s an amazing feeling [when you’re in a zone,]” Kraiza said. “Just hearing the crowd go crazy for me after hitting my threes is such a good feeling, and I’m just glad to help my team win.”
While the Fords didn’t need the new rules to sneak into the postseason — they wound up as the Central League’s No. 4 seed and would’ve qualified under the league’s previous format — it did mean they had to play an extra game to earn that coveted title.
That wasn’t the case back in 1970 when Haverford last topped the Central League. There were no playoffs, but the Fords did win the regular-season crown with help from Steve Joachim, who went on to play quarterback at Temple and win the Maxwell Award in 1974.
But regardless, a crown is a crown, and Haverford is going to celebrate this moment — at least for few hours. Because the Fords finished outside the top eight of District 1 Class 6A, they’ll have to begin their district playoff run at home Friday with a do-or-die game against Ridley.
Fortunately, that’s yet another Central League team, and one Haverford dispatched comfortably, 61-43, a little more than a week ago.
“We’ve just got to get focused,” Heinerichs said. “We’re going to enjoy tonight, [and] tomorrow we’re going to get to practice and talk about what we need to do for Friday.”
Haverford: 6 | 16 | 8 | 19 | 49
Penncrest: 10 | 8 | 9 | 13 | 40
Haverford: 16-39 FG, 8-19 3PT, 9-12 FT
Penncrest: 12-34 FG, 3-13 3PT, 13-22 FT
Haverford: Kraiza 20, Colucci 12, Reynolds 7, Scheivert 5, J. Seidman 3, Higson 2
Penncrest: Lee 11, Boyer 10, Stanton 6, Tomlin 6, Carroll 5, Bochanski 2