Zahmir Carroll finished with 11 points, but his final three — which came as time expired — were the night's most important ones.
Mitchell Gladstone (@mpgladstone13)
SPRINGFIELD — Several minutes after Wednesday’s game had ended, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” blasted from the speakers inside Cardinal O’Hara’s gym.
And from somewhere within a mass that felt like the entire city of Chester, a black No. 35 jersey was lifted into the air. From a distance, it almost looked like it was floating.
Perhaps it was.
That jersey belonged to 15-year-old Clippers sophomore Edward Harman, who was shot and killed a little more than 24 hours before his teammates were set to take on Simon Gratz in a PIAA Class 6A second-round matchup. Jermere Clark, another sophomore on Chester’s team, was injured in the incident as well.
The Clippers had the option to postpone the game. They instead chose to play.
And if there were ever a time to think maybe — just maybe — there was a higher power looking down upon the hardwood, you’d certainly be entitled to believe that with the miracle that Harman’s teammates into the state quarterfinals.
Senior Zahmir Carroll swished home a running 25-foot triple as time expired, lifting Chester past Gratz 63-62 as the Clippers dug their way out of a 15-point second-half hole to emerge winners. Within seconds of the ball finding the bottom of the nylon, fans from all sides of the gym rushed the floor and the emotions of a gym that was somber 90 minutes earlier turned to absolute euphoria.
“Even though it came down to the final stretch,” coach Keith Taylor Sr. said, “a win is a win, and God is good.”
But this win had to feel different.
Harman’s mother, along with several other family members, sat in the first row directly behind the Chester bench. There was a moment of silence along with a presentation from Gratz and the Mastery North girls’ team that played in the first game of the doubleheader. The Clippers, who were the designated home team Wednesday, opted to wear their black jerseys.
Chester was sloppy in the first half, committing 11 turnovers and trailing by a dozen at the break. If emotional fatigue was the reason, nobody would’ve blamed them.
“Once [the game] got started, I knew the guys would have energy,” Taylor said. “We just had to wait until halftime to really get into our guys to get them refocused to come out and play the second half the way they did.”
Nobody — well, maybe Carroll — had a better final two quarters than Karell Watkins. The 6-5 junior scored 16 of his 22 points after intermission on his way to a double-double with 12 rebounds and three assists.
That line included the board and dime to set up Carroll’s game-winner, and Watkins had no doubt there was someone watching over Clippers, especially during those final 16 minutes.
“I knew it was going in,” Watkins said. “I passed it and then I turned around. … I didn’t even look.”
But making that play happen and leading Chester’s comeback was far from the hardest thing Watkins had to do in the last day. It was the junior that had to pull the team together and figure out if they were even going to play.
“I asked the guys, ‘Should we do this?’” Watkins said. “They told me yes for one reason, and it’s because Ed would want us to go out there and win this.”
None of the 12 Clippers objected to playing. For that reason, among many others, Taylor was a proud coach.
“With the emotions that we had this week, we just dug down,” Taylor said. “This is a big win, not just for Chester High but the city of Chester itself. All the stuff that’s going on in the city — look, man, look around, they’re enjoying it. It takes our mind off everything that’s happened. It’s just awesome.
“I’ve been proud all year long. We have a great bunch of guys. We’ve been together for years and they just continue to fight. Never give up.”
That mentality seeped from the players into the crowd. With the game just 20 minutes from the Clippers’ home gym, the orange-and-black faithful turned O’Hara into the Clip Joint as Chester turned on the jets with a 17-2 burst in the third to tie things up at 36 apiece.
With Gratz coach Lynard Stewart begging the officials for a call and the Bulldogs starting to feel their first game pressure of the night, the Clippers only cranked up their intensity, attacking the lane at will and capitalizing with 10-of-14 shooting from the charity stripe in the quarter.
“Coach told us to come out and leave everything on the court,” Carroll said. “The speech in the locker room at halftime [really settled us].”
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Chester will play another game this season. Multiple PIAA playoff games have been already postponed or relocated as a result of Coronavirus, and it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that the PIAA ultimately decided to delay or entirely abandon the tournaments.
If the Clippers do take to the floor again this year, it'll be against Reading, which topped Freedom 67-65.
But after a tumultuous and emotional 24-plus-hour span, Wednesday night was a respite and an opportunity for Chester to celebrate around the sport that means so much to their community.
“I just told them how proud I was of them,” Taylor said of his postgame message. “The way they continued to fight for our city and our fallen teammates. It’s just good to see it, man. It’s just good.”
Chester: 9 | 10 | 24 | 20 | 63
Gratz: 12 | 19 | 10 | 21 | 62
Chester: 24-52 FG, 3-6 3PT, 12-20 FT
Gratz: 25-56 FG, 5-15 3PT, 7-19 FT
Chester: Watkins 22, Burton Jr. 14, Carroll 11, Taylor 10, Gilbert 6
Gratz: Stover 15, Rowel 14, Gordon 10, Satchel 10, Harris 6, Carter 4, Ali
Math Civics & Sciences 80, Wyalusing 26
Dock Mennonite 56, Holy Cross 43
Constitution 79, Executive Education 76
North Star 72, Bloomsburg 57
Our Lady Sacred Heart 84, Portage Area 56
Farrell 51, Ridgeway 33
Sto-Rox 75, Lakeview 51
Bishop Guilfoyle 66, Clairon 47
Neumann-Goretti 87, Holy Redeemer 49
HS of the Future 75, Panther Valley 51
Loyalsock 66, Camp Hill 65
Trinity 70, Riverside 34
Richland 68, South Allegheny 58
North Catholic 68, Aliquippa 62
Lincoln Park 66, Brookville 46
Beaver Falls 78, Carlynton 63
Methacton 83, Lincoln 55
Roman Catholic 62, Pennridge 51
Chester 63, Simon Gratz 62
Reading 67, Freedom 65
McDowell 68, Central York 61
Butler 77, Upper St. Clair 73
Wilson vs. Lower Merion (3/12)
Cheltenham vs. Mt. Lebanon (3/12)