Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
DEVON — Jason Fisher and Devon Prep have gotten used to this time of year being something of a strange one.
The Tide are in the rare position of already being guaranteed a place in the PIAA state playoffs nearly a month before they begin. While most teams around the state are worried about a loss in the next week sending them home early, Devon Prep could lose in both its Catholic League and District 12 openers and will still be playing come March 9.
Zane Conlon (above) and Devon Prep will play in their third straight state playoffs. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“It’s very different because of the size of our school and playing in this league,” Fisher said. “It’s nice to make the Catholic League playoffs because you can work on some stuff to lead up to (states), but last year we had almost a month off, which was crazy.”
“Definitely is a big relief because we know we’ve got more [time],” junior wing Zane Conlon said. “But it’s a big deal for us to appreciate what we have now and not take it for granted, so [we’re] just taking it one day at a time and just appreciating every day we have.”
This year’s Tide, however, are in a position they’ve never been in before.
It’s not the eighth-place finish in the Catholic League, which — while an improvement from the year before, when they finished 11th — is not the high-water mark for a program that only joined the league five years back. Nor are their five league wins, which they accomplished by beating Cardinal O’Hara 58-49 in overtime on Sunday afternoon.
No, it’s the fact that for the first time since Devon Prep made the jump from the Bicentennial to the PCL, and from District 1 to District 12, that the Tide will be playing for a district title. By virtue of finishing ahead of West Catholic — which didn’t qualify for the PCL playoffs — in the league standings, Devon Prep is guaranteed a spot in the District 12 3A title game against Math, Civics & Sciences later this month.
For the first time in its three consecutive state playoff appearances, Devon Prep will be playing out of the 12-1 or 12-2 spot instead of 12-3. That’s a new path through the bracket to get to Hershey, as the Tide hope to bring home their second trophy in three years.
There’s still the Catholic League playoffs, which begin Wednesday night, but Devon Prep knows its best chances at another title come later on down the road. The ability to play without too much pressure is something Fisher’s counting on being beneficial for his group.
“We’re young, we start five juniors,” he said. “For these guys to be given the opportunity to be in a game like this, a game like Wednesday night and feel that pressure but know that we’re still going to be playing the next day if we lose, it helps; it helps get them less nervous, is the best way to put it.”
“We do have states in the back of our minds,” junior Reece Craft said. “Preparing for that down the road, making sure we maintain a winning attitude and not, if we do fall short in PCLs, not let that affect us going deep because we still can make a deep run [in states].”
Last year, Devon Prep made it to the state quarterfinals before losing to Trinity, 64-63 in overtime in what was perhaps the game of the tournament. West Catholic took home the title, 83-55, but the Burrs graduated most of their starting lineup and are going through some learning this season with a young team.
Even though the Tide might only be the eighth-best team in the PCL and have yet to crack double-figures in the win column, they know they very well might be one of the best in the state in the 3A bracket.
“Honestly they learned it when they won the state championship,” Fisher said. “I think we were in the same spot, we had a home game against Carroll in the first round of the playoffs and then lost to West. They learned that it sucks to lose, we want to get to the Palestra and do all those things, but if we keep getting better, we have a whole ‘nother tournament.”
Reece Craft (above) had 17 points and 12 rebounds in Devon's win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Fisher has a strong group led by that junior class, which showed out in its win over O’Hara. Craft, a 6-foot-6 lefty, led the way with a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double, including the game-tying bucket with 50 seconds left in regulation go-ahead bucket in overtime. Conlon added 12 points and nine rebounds, his three-point play with 1:25 left extending the Devon lead to four.
Junior Shane Doyle added 15 points, five rebounds and four assists, hitting a pair of three pointers but also doing a good job attacking the rim. Point guard Mason Thear added nine points, seven rebounds and three assists.
The Tide scored the final eight points of the game, outsourcing O’Hara 10-1 in the extra period. That came after a game which was close throughout, O’Hara leading by five at halftime and two after three quarters, with several fourth-quarter lead changes.
“We’ve grown so much over the past two weeks and just playing together, bonding,” Conlon said. “We’re all in a really good headspace right now and just trying to build momentum up going to the playoffs.”
Stonehill-bound senior forward Pearse McGuinn led O’Hara with a 15-point, nine-rebound, three-bound, three-assist effort. Rider commit Aasim Burton added 14 points but took 21 shots.
What Devon Prep’s Sunday win earned the Tide was a rematch with the Lions in the opening round of the Catholic League playoffs. The two teams will analyze the footage, go home and come back Wednesday night (7 PM) to do it all over again.
“Their coach [Fran O’Hanlon] is a really good coach, they’re going to be looking for something to switch up,” Conlon said. “We’re going to have to fix what we messed up and try to play the same game, just high-energy.”
But only one team will be playing for its season to continue.
The Tide will carry on regardless.
DP: 12 | 11 | 13 | 12 | 10 || 58
CO: 14 | 14 | 10 | 10 | 1 || 61
DP: 21-45 FG (6-19 3PT), 10-17 FT
CO: 19-53 FT (3-19 3PT), 8-16 FT
DP: Reece Craft 17, Shane Doyle 15, Zane Conlon 12, Mason Thear 9, Mike Pergolis 4, Calvin Smith 1
CO: Pearse McGuinn 15, Aasim Burton 14, Miles Johnson 6, Tygee Clark 6, Ethan Schwartz 3, Jack Quinn 3, Anthony Hobbs 2