Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
MALVERN — Joey Vandergeest wasn’t going to let Malvern Prep drop its Inter-Academic League opener.
The Friars had built up a big early lead against Episcopal Academy on their home court, but the Churchmen had battled back to get within striking distance late in the fourth quarter. A couple more possessions going against the hosts, and the visitors were liable to steal one.
Joey Vandergeest (above) was one of four Friars to score double digits in the team's Inter-Ac opener. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
But Malvern Prep’s shortest starter made its biggest plays at the right time. The 5-foot-7 senior guard dropped in a floater to stop the bleeding, then a minute later dropped in the dagger as Malvern closed strong for a 69-55 win.
Vandergeest finished with 18 points, his highest total at the varsity level, going 6-of-10 from the floor, including making two of his four 3-point attempts and all four of his foul shots. None were bigger than the triple he hit from the left with 2:20 left, which put Malvern up 59-48.
It had been a four-point game just a minute before, down from an 18-point first-half lead, when Vandergeest’s floater helped the Friars right the ship. A steal-and-layup by junior wing Andrew Phillips off the ensuing inbounds pass immediately pushed the gap to eight, and the triple 30 seconds later all but ended it.
“It felt great,” Vandergeest said afterwards. “We were kind of just waiting to finally get to the league, get a big win, so it felt good to get a big team win today.”
He was one of four Friars (8-5, 1-0) in double figures, along with classmate Tyler Lauder, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Phillips (seven rebounds, three assists) and sophomore guard Ryan Williams (six rebounds) both finished with 15.
The Malvern Prep offense scored at least 14 points in all four quarters, the Episcopal defense unable to shut it down for too long thanks to the variety of ways the Friars got the ball in the bucket. Williams’ six assists paced a Prep attack that got 13 of its 23 buckets off dimes, with a number of others coming thanks to second-chance efforts.
“I feel like when everybody’s distributing the ball, making the extra pass, everybody’s hitting shots, not only is it fun, high-energy, but then I think we’re a really, really tough team to guard, because you can’t focus in on one guy when everybody can make a play,” Vandergeest said. “I think we can be really dangerous in that sense.”
Lauder, a 6-7 forward and Babson College commit, went a step further.
“I don’t see many teams beating us when we do that,” he said.
“I think for us to win the league, it’s going to take a lot of teamwork,” Lauder added. “We have a ton of good guys that can score the ball individually, but I think something we did today in the second half is making a little bit of that extra pass, and if we continue to do that and just get everyone involved, I think that’s what we need to win more games in the league.”
The path through the six-team Inter-Ac won’t be easy — Springside-Chestnut Hill, with 6-9 junior Alassane Amadou as its centerpiece, is the preseason league favorite, while Penn Charter’s strong junior class should have them right in the mix as well.
Tyler Lauder (above) posted a double-double for the Friars on Tuesday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Malvern Prep, which went 6-2 in an abbreviated, conference-only 2021 season, expects to be right in the mix as well. The Friars won the league two years back with a perfect 10-0 record, though most of the major contributors — and head coach John Harmatuk, now at the Phelps School — have moved on.
“I felt like Tyler and I personally do a really good job of trying to keep everyone together,” said Vandergeest, who’s been talking to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (N.Y.) about continuing his hoops career at the college level. “We have experience — not much, considering last year — but I think we have experience we can learn from our predecessors that graduated, they were a really good team. Keeping everyone together was a big thing.”
Episcopal Academy (6-9, 0-1) got a 20-point, four-rebound, four-assist effort from junior wing Travis Lamb, whose relentless attacking of the bucket helped open things up for the Churchmen offense in the second half. Sophomore guard Kevin McCarthy, like Williams one of the top young guards in the Inter-Ac, finished with 16 points, six rebounds and two steals.
Both programs resume Inter-Ac play on Friday. Episcopal Academy plays host to Penn Charter, which lost its league opener to The Haverford School; Malvern Prep travels to Germantown Academy, whose game against SCH was pushed back to Saturday.
The two-year wait for an Inter-Ac season finally over, a student section supporting Malvern Prep to a league win for the first time in too many days, the Friars feel ready for what’s to come.
“Introducing some of the younger guys to that atmosphere was really fun,” Lauder said, “and something we look forward to for the rest of the year.”
Malvern Prep: 14 | 16 | 16 | 23 || 69
Episcopal Ac.: 8 | 10 | 20 | 17 || 55
Malvern Prep: 23-50 FG (4-16 3PT), 19-22 FT
Episcopal Ac.: 18-53 FG (7-24 3PT), 12-14 FT
Malvern Prep: Joey Vandergeest 18, Ryan Williams 15, Andrew Phillips 15, Tyler Lauder 13, Hayden Pegg 4, Charlie Oschell 2, Tague Davis 2
Episcopal Ac.: Travis Lamb 20, Kevin McCarthy 16, Jake Jaszcz 9, Daniel Kane 6, Matthew McCarthy 4