CoBL Staff (@hooplove215)
It’s time for the state semifinals, one loaded with local squads.
The girls’ 4A and 5A brackets and the boys’ 2A, 3A and 6A brackets have seen quite a few programs from District 1 and District 12 making runs into the Final Four, giving us quite a busy slate on Saturday, with eight different state semifinals — including Chester vs. Imhotep, the boys’ 5A matchup moved back from Friday — to cover involving squads from the Delaware Valley.
Here’s a look at each of the three girls’ games taking place Saturday involving area teams, a trio of Catholic League squads all with legitimate championship hopes; a preview of the boys games will come shortly:
Roman Catholic vs. Lower Merion (Boys 6A)
Coatesville Area High School, 4 PM
Strap in, it’s going to be a fun ride.
One of the most-anticipated matchups of the whole postseason will take place at Coatesville on Saturday as the Cahillites and Aces clash, bringing decades of history and a whole lotta current talent onto the court, and there won’t be a silver lining for whichever team is on the losing side come the final buzzer; the winner gets either Archbishop Wood (20-7) or Fox Chapel (27-1) in the championship.
Xzayvier Brown (above) and Roman Catholic will take on Lower Merion at 4 PM at Coatesville. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Roman (22-4), which had Catholic League championship plans before getting derailed in the semifinals, is chasing its third state title under Chris McNesby, his first since 2016, though it also won one with Matt Griffin at the helm (2018) between McNesby’s two stints. The Cahillites beat Haverford High (59-49), Central Dauphin (59-26) and then Cheltenham (66-50) to reach the semifinals, getting 23 points from Hofstra-bound shooting guard Khalil Farmer, 16 and 13 rebounds from Cincinnati-bound wing Daniel Skillings, and 16 points and five assists from junior point guard Xzayvier Brown, another D-I recruit.
Those three are half of McNesby’s rotation, along with senior guard Quadir Brown and sophomore guard Toby Ojukwu, both of whom start; 6-foot-6 freshman forward Shareef Jackson, son of former Roman big man Marc Jackson, is their primary bench piece. Even though it’s a short rotation, it’s got all the pieces: Skillings, a 6-7 wing, can really stuff a stat sheet and all three of Skillings, Farmer and Xzayvier Brown can score from all three levels, while Ojukwu and Quadir Brown are no slouches on either end, and Jackson gives them some additional bulk inside.
Lower Merion (27-3), the District 1 champs, are here after beating Chambersburg (64-60) and Abington (63-50) in the first two rounds before laying a 72-44 smackdown on Scranton in the quarterfinals. Gregg Downer’s Aces, chasing their first state title since 2013, are led by Penn State-bound big man Demetrius Lilley and junior guard Sam Brown, who combined for 43 points against Scranton, Lilley responsible for 30 of them. Downer has also gotten steady contributions from junior guard Sam Wright, a strong outside shooter, and senior guard Jaylen Shippen, a drive-and-finish specialist; senior forward Henry Bard, junior guard Justin Poles and senior guard Peter Gribben round out the top seven.
Roman needs to find a way to slow down the 6-9 Lilley, something few teams have been able to do this year — though few teams have a defender as versatile as Skillings, whose wingspan allows him to guard all five positions on the court. If the Cahillites can neutralize the inside presence, that makes it quite a bit easier for them to guard the Aces’ bevy of shooters; if Lilley can do his thing, the situation gets a lot more interesting.
In its semifinal win over Cheltenham, Roman gave up a 17-0 run to the Panthers but was able to recover. A similar slip against Lower Merion would be much more fatal.
Constitution vs. Old Forge (Boys 2A)
Liberty HS, 1 PM
There’s a tripleheader of local games at Bethlehem’s Liberty High School, all involving local squads. It begins with this 2A boys semifinal between District 12 champ Constitution (21-8) and District 2 runner-up Old Forge (18-9) in a rematch of last year’s semifinal, which Constitution won 62-60 before falling to Our Lady Sacred Heart in the championship. Quadir Miller had 27 points for Constitution in that one, while Jacob Beccles added 14.
Beccles along with fellow senior Lamar Glover have led the team back to the semifinals this season, fending off District 2 champion Holy Cross 50-48 on Wednesday night. One win away from a second straight title game appearance, Rob Moore’s Generals are hoping for another chance to claim the state championship.
Constitution gets reliable scoring from Beccles at the wing position, while Glover is a physical guard who can absorb contact as he makes his way into the paint. Seniors Simere Blagman and Jamal Carr bring energy and rebounding for an undersized Generals team.
Old Forge is in this position after beating Wyalusing (59-30), Karns City (51-46) and then District 3 champs Lancaster Mennonite (66-54) in the quarterfinals. The Blue Devils, who return just one starter from last year’s run, got out to a 9-0 lead into their quarterfinal win, also on Liberty’s court, and led wire-to-wire, needing only regulation to beat a team that it took them two overtimes to get past last year in the state playoffs.
The Blue Devils are led by junior guard Joey Macciocco (15.6 ppg), according to Varsity570, and senior forward Ayden Davitt (13.4 ppg), getting offensive contributions from junior forward Matt Kuckla, senior guard Mario Samony and junior guard Anthony Mucciolo.
The winner faces either District 10 champ Kennedy Catholic (24-4) or unbeaten OLSH (26-0) in the championship next Friday at 2:30 PM.
Devon Prep vs. Holy Redeemer (Boys 3A)
Liberty HS, 4 PM
The boys’ 3A bracket is about as wide open as it gets between the four finalists, with either District 7’s No. 4 seed South Allegheny (20-7) or its No. 3 seed Aliquippa (20-8) going to make it to Hershey as well. And that means Jason Fisher and his Devon Prep squad are very much in the mix for a state championship, certainly providing themselves as worthy of the title after beating a very strong West Catholic squad 60-51 on Wednesday evening.
The Tide were terrific at O’Hara in the quarterfinals, going 9-of-20 from beyond the arc and dishing out 13 assists on 20 buckets in a terrific display of ball movement and shooting, getting 22 points from junior wing Jacen Holloway and 20 from senior guard Argel ‘IV’ Pettit, plus 20 from Susquehanna commit Allen Cieslak, another senior guard.
Lucas Orchard (right) and Devon Prep are in the state semifinals for the first time in program history. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Fisher’s squad doesn’t mind playing patiently, but that doesn’t mean they have to play slow; it’s a group with at least four capable ball-handlers on the floor at any given time, making them difficult to press or get out of their rhythm. Junior wing Lucas Orchard, their leading scorer on the season, is also a strong dribble-drive offense creator who doesn’t take bad shots.
Holy Redeemer, which defeated District 12 champion Math, Civics & Sciences 56-48 in the quarterfinals, is used to dealing with methodical offensive opponents. The Royals’ zone defense slowed things down on Wednesday night, forcing turnovers and preventing the Mighty Elephants from getting out in transition; a matchup against Devon Prep’s strong half-court offense should be a big test.
Center Matthew Prociak led Holy Redeemer with 18 points on Wednesday night, burying two first-half 3-pointers before working in the post and on the offensive boards in the second half. The 6-foot-6 senior is complemented by two ball-handlers who can attack the rim in senior Justice Shoats and junior Zachary Perta.
Archbishop Wood vs. Fox Chapel (Boys 6A)
Chambersburg High School, 4 PM
Fox Chapel has to be hoping Jalil Bethea isn’t coming back for an encore performance.
The Wood sophomore was simply phenomenal in the quarterfinals against North Hills, hitting 11 of the 12 threes he took while scoring 37 points. Bethea hit six 3-pointers in the second quarter alone as he and reserves Josh Reed and Markus Dixon helped flip the script and put the Vikings on course to a lopsided win.
Jalil Bethea (above) had 11 3-pointers in Wood's quarterfinal win over North Hills. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
With the Vikings looking for a second consecutive bid to the state final, which would be the fourth overall under coach John Mosco, they’ll be looking to replicate Wednesday’s torrid shooting in the same gym at Chambersburg. Asking for 15 made threes again may be a stretch but with senior Justin Moore helm-ing a potent offense flanked by Mike Knouse and Bahsil Laster with Carson Howard down low and Tyson Allen slicing in between, Wood is always a threat to put up points.
The Foxes needed a late three by Eli Yofan to get past a Northampton team that was on an impressive run of its own, but the 27-1 WPIAL champions found a way to win again. It was also a historic win, sending Fox Chapel to its first semifinal in 45 years which also led to its sole state title in 1977.
Yofan is the lead guy for the Foxes, the D-I recruit with a Navy offer averaging 19 ppg, but he’s got plenty of help. A solid all-around 6-5 forward, Colin Kwiatkowski is a reliable option and J. P. Dockey had the defensive play of the game, blocking Northampton’s last-ditch 3-point attempt to seal up the quarterfinal win. Also keep an eye on sixth man Jeff Moorefield-Brown, a sparkplug sophomore and good rebounder with a knack for making clutch buckets.
The Foxes will need to rely on that defense against Wood, trying to keep the score low and prevent the Vikings from pushing the tempo.