Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
HERSHEY — When Devon Prep joined the Philadelphia Catholic League, Jason Fisher wasn’t even thinking about the PIAA state tournament. The basketball coach and Athletic Director at the private, all-boys school on the Main Line was just hoping the move to the top hoops league in the state would be a benefit to a squad that had struggled to compete in the Bicentennial Athletic League, just about the exact opposite of the powerhouse PCL.
Four years later, Fisher couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact that the Tide are the best 3A boys squad in the state.
“It won’t hit until…I don’t even know when, to be honest,” he said. “All of it. It’s been a big blur.”
Jason Fisher (above) guided Devon Prep to its first state championship in program history. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
But that’s the reality for Devon Prep, which has a new banner to hang in its gymnasium in the fall, courtesy of a 76-58 win over Aliquippa on Saturday afternoon at the GIANT Center. It was the cap on a remarkable rise for a school whose basketball history is mediocre at best, typically forgettable, a few first-round appearances in past Class A and AA brackets the high-water mark before now.
The Tide (19-7) got stellar performances from all five starters, setting the pace in the first half against the Quips (21-9) and then using a massive second-half run to blow the game wide open. They were able to play the fourth quarter with the title all but won, up by 15 or more the entire final eight minutes
“It feels like a dream, it feels surreal,” senior Allen Cieslak said. “And I’m proud to do it with these guys, they’re like a family. It’s awesome, I’m so happy.”
“It’s crazy to think that I’m a state champion, Devon Prep is a state championship basketball team,” junior Jacen Holloway added. “It feels great.”
Another junior, Lucas Orchard, paced Devon Prep with 17 points, followed closely by Holloway (16 points), seniors Argel ‘IV’ Pettit (15) Cieslak (13), with sophomore Ty Mishock (13) making it five-for-five in double figures.
Holloway completed a double-double with 12 rebounds, adding a couple steals and a couple assists, but he wasn't the only one to stuff the stat sheet. Orchard had five assists and four rebounds; Pettit had six rebounds; Cieslak had three assists, two steals and two rebounds; Mishock had four assists and a couple boards.
Lucas Orchard (above, left) and Jacen Holloway show off their 2022 PIAA Class 3A championship medals. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The quintet combined to shoot 25-of-49 (51%) from the floor and 10-21 (47.6%) from 3-point range, senior wing Jake Kenney taking (and making) the only shot from a Devon Prep reserve as Fisher leaned on his starting group to play 153 out of 160 possible minutes.
“I thought the whole team played great, I really did,” Fisher said. “They share the ball very well, they’re basketball players that are very tough to guard because they do that — they can all shoot, they can all dribble, they all defend, and you saw that tonight.
“These are going to be guys that get together 25 years from now, be at each other’s weddings (with) how much they’ve bonded and gelled outside of basketball,” the ninth-year head coach added. “It’s a special group and I hope that it carries over to the younger guys, but we’ll see. I think it will. But they’re a really special group.”
“It’s not just [the starting] five, everything we do is just together,” said Cieslak, who’ll continue his hoops career at Susquehanna in the fall. “We’re always hanging out together in school, always getting food together after games, even if we have an off day, we’re just going to go hang out at someone’s house. Building the bond is the most important (thing), you can’t have a good basketball team if you guys aren’t mentally connected.”
The Tide and Quips came out like gangbusters, both teams dropping in shots from all over the court. Devon Prep led 24-19 after one quarter, but a 3-pointer from Aliquippa reserve sophomore Demarkus Walker (12 points) tied it at 34 with 2:39 remaining in the opening half.
From that point onwards, it was an entirely different ballgame.
With under 30 seconds left in the first half and his Devon Prep squad sitting on a six-point lead, Orchard just needed to sit on the ball, hold for a final shot and send his Tide into the locker room feeling good about themselves.
Instead, the junior found himself with a sliver of daylight from the left wing, pulled up, and buried the shot, an Aliquippa airball a few seconds later meaning that advantage was nine at the break.
“I’ve been in the gym a lot shooting those 3s, waiting for them to go under [the screen] like they did,” he said. “As soon as they went under I didn’t hesitate, I just pulled it, and that gave us all the momentum going into half.”
“I tell these guys all the time that we want to get the best shot possible, the best shot possible,” Fisher said. “And…that was pretty close. I would have preferred to have the last (shot), but yeah.”
The momentum carried right into the third quarter, which began with a couple Mishock steals, the first resulting in a layup from the 5-9 sophomore and the second ending up in Cieslak’s hands for a triple, which pushed the advantage to 14.
The Tide weren’t done yet. Five straight from Pettit made it a 19-point point advantage; by the time Mishock found Orchard for a layup at the midway point of the third, it was a 25-0 run spanning the quarters and a 59-34 lead.
Aliquippa —- whose starting lineup are all football standouts from the school’s gridiron championship in the fall — got back within 17 going into the fourth, but it never felt like the gap was in serious danger of closing. Devon Prep was too locked in, too focused, had been preparing for this moment in dozens upon dozens of games played in offseason events, fall shootouts, AAU tournaments and more.
“They’re great athletes, (but) we wanted them to have to make basketball decisions as much as possible,” Fisher said. “Those guys had to make changes and adjust to us; that’s been the theme of the year, forcing other teams to adjust to what we’re doing.”
Devon Prep celebrates at the buzzer. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Fisher let his seniors play almost the entirety of the final quarter, even as it became clearer and clearer that an Aliquippa comeback wasn’t going to happen. The sizable Devon Prep student section which followed the team through the playoffs and out to the chocolate capital of the country celebrated the whole time.
With Mishock, Orchard and Holloway back in the fold next year, and a few intriguing youngsters on the roster ready to make their move into the varsity rotation this summer, the Tide fully expect to be back in Hershey a year from now, ready to defend their title.
“We’re just going to try to go back-to-back,” Holloway said, “and just keep winning together.”
Devon Prep: 24 | 19 | 21 | 12 || 76
Aliquippa: 19 | 15 | 13 | 11 || 58
Devon Prep: 26-49 FG (10-21 3PT), 14-21 FT
Aliquippa: 22-58 FG (7-23 3PT), 7-11 FT
Devon Prep: Lucas Orchard 17, Jacen Holloway 16, IV Pettit 15, Allen Cieslak 13, Ty Mishock 13
Aliquippa: Cameron Lindsay 14, Demarkus Walker 12, Quentin Goode 8, DJ Walker 8, Brandon Banks 7, Nicholas Good 4, Randall Anderson 3, Jayace Williams 2