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Central League: Semifinal Previews (Feb. 11)

02/10/2023, 10:00am EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

The Central League semifinals take place on Saturday, staggered at home courts, making it possible to see three of the four, for those interested in a solid day of Delaware County public school hoops, and Lower Merion. Happiest about the staggered times are certainly the Springfield (Delco.) parents, who get to see their girls and boys play on the road three hours apart, though the girls have a less difficult (though still difficult) hill to climb than the boys. 

A look at all four games taking place Saturday:

Central League First-Round Results
Boys: 3) Upper Darby def. 6) Harriton, 83-61
Boys: 5) Springfield (Delco.) def. 4) Garnet Valley, 48-29

Girls: 3) Springfield (Delco.) def. 6) Penncrest, 47-35
Girls: 5) Radnor def. 4) Garnet Valley, 50-32


Girls: 2) Conestoga vs 3) Springfield (Delco.) (2 PM)

Springfield-Delco's Lexi Aaron and the Cougars are hoping to get revenge on Conestoga. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

While Haverford’s the unbeaten top seed, Conestoga’s had a terrific season of its own, improving upon a 13-9 mark a year ago by going 18-4 this season, its only loss since Dec. 28 coming in a three-point home defeat to Haverford; they also lost by two at the Fords in overtime in mid-December, as well as at Bishop Shanahan in their opener and at a tough Sparta (N.J.) squad just before the new year. That includes a 39-35 win over Springfield (Delco.) at Conestoga on Jan. 19, the reason they’re hosting this game as both teams finished 14-2 in league play.

Freshman guard Ryann Jennings has been a major addition to the Pioneers, scoring 16 points in that win over Springfield, including a four-point play in the fourth quarter. They also rely on juniors Bella Valencia and Katrina Valencia as well as Marisa Francione in the backcourt, and 6-1 sophomore Janie Preston continues to make progress up front. Those five were the only ones who scored in the game against Springfield, a common occurrence for a Cougars’ squad which is one of the toughest around defensively. 

Springfield (Delco.) has now won seven straight after back-to-back losses to Conestoga and Haverford, its only two of the league season; it had won nine straight prior. Ky McNichol’s Cougars are senior-driven, defensively-minded, tough and unselfish, with connections on the hardwood that go back 13 or 14 years in some cases. Point guard Mia Valerio and shooting guard Lexi Aaron are their two most talented with the ball and also both lacrosse commits, to Richmond and Towson; guard Kaitlyn Kearney plus wing/forwards Anabel Kreydt and Taylor Hunyet all know their roles, make layups and take open shots.


Boys: 1) Radnor vs 5) Springfield (Delco.) (5 PM)
Radnor’s boys came into this season with two main goals to accomplish, and a third in the realm of possibility, and find themselves two wins from accomplishing the first. The Raptors have stormed through regular season an unbeaten 22-0 (16-0 Central) to put themselves in the driver’s seat for the championship, looking every bit the group that’s ready to put its foot down as the best to ever come through Radnor, at least on the hardwood. That includes a 62-33 win over Springfield (Delco.) at Springfield on Jan. 26, following up on a 53-37 win at Radnor on Dec. 8; that 15-point gap is actually the second-closest any Central team got to Radnor this season, after Garnet Valley (five).

Jamie Chadwin’s Raptors rely heavily on their top seven, but it’s a group that’s pretty tough to find much in terms of flaws or weak spots. Offensively, Princeton commit Jackson Hicke, a 6-5 wing, does a lot of the heavy lifting, though point guard Danny Rosenblum gets the offense running, and 6-4 wing Charlie Thornton is a versatile scorer and defender who’s been playing his best basketball the second half of the season. Now throw in 6-7 wing Jackson Gaffney, another senior, plus 6-3 senior wing Cooper Mueller — the best athlete on the team and a Princeton lacrosse commit — and the problems start to become clear. It’s a group that’s been playing with a special type of juice this year, see them while you can.

So yes, Springfield (Delco.) has its work cut out for it to pull off what would be one of the biggest upsets of the season, but Kevin McCormick has been around a season or two (or 25 or more) and will certainly have his team as ready as it can be to handle the top dogs. Senior guards Mike Hoey, Jake Adams and Mike O’Donnell help pace them offensively, though junior forward Colin Treude gives them a nice inside presence, with the ability to face up in the mid-range. The Cougars will try to slow the game down as much as possible and capitalize on every mistake they can get the Raptors to make.


Boys: 2) Lower Merion vs 3) Upper Darby (7 PM)

Lower Merion's John Mobley, left, goes up for a shot against Radnor's Charlie Thornton earlier this season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

If this game isn’t played in the 70s or even into the 80s, we’ll be sorely disappointed. Upper Darby (17-6) loves to push the tempo and score it, and Bob Miller has a group fully capable of scoring from all over the court, scoring 80+ points four times this season, not easy to do in a league that likes to play somewhat deliberate hoops, with most games in the 40s and 50s. Lower Merion’s capable of playing at all sorts of tempos but won’t mind at all going up-and-down, the Aces with the depth and the conditioning to run for 32 minutes, and to still hit big shots late in games. 

Gregg Downer’s group starts with Penn commit Sam Brown, the four-year starter and left-handed combo guard, the area’s best 3-point shooter with range from just about halfcourt, though the son of former Sixers coach Brett Brown has greatly improved off the bounce and as a shot- and play-maker from all over the court. The Robin to his Batman is Sam Wright, another senior and 3-point marksman who also is a great secondary ball-handler; fellow seniors Justin Poles, Jordan Meekins and Teddy Pendergrass III give them more backcourt depth. Up front, they utilize 6-2 wing John Mobley as an athletic ‘4’ man who can really crash the glass and attack the rim. 

Upper Darby doesn’t have a singular point of focus, though senior point guard Nadir Myers is the table-setter and on-court leader, even if he doesn’t need to score a ton to make things happen. Their starting five are all seniors — Shaun Cain, Khysir Slaughter, Yassir Joyner and Niymire Brown — have all taken their turns going off for big games; Brown (28) and Joyner (24) did so in the first-round win over Harriton on Thursday night. They’re certainly a group that likes to get up and down but it’s far from chaotic, with great ball movement and shooting from all over the court; the 6-4 Brown, who can knock down 3s, scores around the bucket and makes passes on the move, is especially a matchup problem.


Girls: 1) Haverford High vs. 5) Radnor (7 PM)
Just like Radnor on the boys’ side, the Haverford girls haven’t been touched this season, though they’ve had a few close calls along the way. The Fords and Raptors have only met once this season, a 60-26 Haverford win in mid-January; Radnor’s won six of its last eight to close out the year. But there’s no doubt they’ve got quite the task ahead of them in Haverford, which is experienced, talented, and with size across the board. 

Lauren Pellicane’s Fords start with the frontcourt of 6-1 Mollie Carpenter, a Catholic U (D.C.) commit and 6-1 wing forward Caroline Dotsey, who’ll play at Maine next year. Dotsey is a versatile frontcourt piece who can shoot, handle, pass, and score around the rim, while Carpenter is an excellent rebounder and put-back specialist. Dotsey’s sister, 5-11 sophomore Rian Dotsey, is having a breakout season of her own, while the backcourt of senior Skye Newman and junior Aniya Eberhart bring them perimeter scoring and slashing ability, a nice compliment to the frontcourt. 

Radnor is led by 5-8 point guard Mary Sareen who is at the core of the team’s style of play on both sides of the ball. The Raptors play a hard-nosed style of defense in which they make life difficult for opposing teams, particularly in their attempts to attack the basket. Senior guard Meg Dole and junior Caroline Monagan provide nice balance as perimeter scorers while freshman Anna Reger and junior Kate Gallagher, a West Point lacrosse commit, are vital as secondary offensive creators. They are a competitive bunch who are ready to muck it up defensively and leave it all on the floor. 

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