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District 1 6A: Lower Merion defeats Garnet Valley for third title in four years

03/02/2024, 11:00pm EST
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

NORTH PHILADELPHIA — Lower Merion boys basketball coach Gregg Downer gave his team some advice earlier this week. 

“One of the first things our coach told us even playing at home against Chester was just take in the atmosphere because you don’t get many of these,” Aces senior John Mobley said. “Just take a second to look around and have fun with it.”

As Mobley headed to the free throw line in the final minute of Saturday’s District 1 6A championship at the Liacouras Center to put the finishing touches on a 57-49 win over Garnet Valley, he heeded those words.

After a quick glance at the large jumbotron overhead to check the time and score, Mobley signaled the Aces crowd to their feet, soaking in the moment once he toed the line. 

“It doesn’t get much better,” Mobley said.

“It’s the best feeling as a basketball player.”

The Lower Merion boys basketball team poses together after winning the District 1 6A boys basketball championship at the Liacouras Center. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

The win delivered Lower Merion its third District 1 6A title in four years. It’s the 18th overall for Lower Merion and fourth under 33rd-year head coach Gregg Downer.

However, this one was different. The title run completed the Aces’ turnaround from a preseason underdog into a squad that now sits at 27-1 and has its own place in the program's rich history.

“I feel like a lot at the start of the year people weren’t believing in us the way we believed in ourselves,” senior Justin Mebane said. “Whatever we could have done to just get out and win was fine by me.”

Lower Merion senior John Mobley scored 17 points in Saturday's championship game. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Mobley scored 17 points in the championship game win. Junior Carson Kasmer added 11 and senior Owen McCabe added 10. Mebane chipped in eight points and three blocks. The Aces (27-1) jumped out to an 11-3 lead after Garnet Valley (19-9) scored the first bucket of the game and played front runner the rest of the contest.

The win over the Jaguars was the Aces third season, winning the first matchup between Central League rivals in the district title game since the conference was founded in 1967.

“Garnet’s always tough and especially gotta beat them three times, that’s a difficult task, but we knew what we had to do,” McCabe said. “We knew what we had to get done, and we just got the job done today.”

Four of Mobley’s biggest points came in the final 7.9 seconds of the third quarter when he hit a free throw then buried a buzzer beater three off an offensive rebound to turn a six-point game into a 39-29 lead heading into the fourth quarter. He gave a quick turn to the crowd behind the Aces bench after that one too.

After a tough shooting start, Garnet Valley junior Jake Sniras tried to rally his team with eight fourth-quarter points. Sniras had 15, classmate Brady Krautzel finished with 14 and senior Quinn O’Hara added 12. The Jaguars cut the lead to five with 30.7 seconds left on free throws by O'Hara but Kasmer and Mobley iced the game at the line.

“They’re very smart, they’re very well coached,” Garnet Valley coach Mike Brown said of Lower Merion. “They don’t have a D1 kid, but they probably have 10 D3 kids and they all know how to play. They took good shots. They share the ball. Some of my guys are still learning to do that.”

Lower Merion senior Justin Mebane scored eight points and blocked three shots. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

It’s true the Aces don’t have a Kobe Bryant like Downer’s 1996 group or even a Sam Brown (Penn) or Demetrius Lilley (Penn State) like the 2021 and 2022 groups — part of the reason they didn't come into the season with the same hype as some teams of the past.

But they found a way to bring home the district championship trophy that so many other talented Aces squads were unable to do.

“I think that might have been the key,” Mebane said. “We were all willing and able to do what we needed to do to win. That was our No. 1 priority. No stars. Just pure focus on winning and nothing else.”

Senior Jayden Robinson was another big piece Saturday, scoring two quick buckets after halftime to push the Lower Merion back to double digits. Senior Adam Herrenkohl had five points, but made a number of big plays, which included grabbing the offensive board that set up Mobley’s buzzer beater to end the third.

McCabe got a 30-second shift two years ago when the Aces took down Norristown for their second straight championship, getting his name in the box score with a foul. Mobley, who grew up playing football, basketball and baseball McCabe since kindergarten at St. Margaret School, is another three-year varsity player.

Even they didn’t play starring roles a season ago, and the rest of the rotation was an unknown to those outside the Lower Merion program.

“Over the summer, we were just locking in for sure,” McCabe said. “That’s when we knew we had something special. The chemistry was clicking, everything was clicking and we knew we could make a deep run like this.”

“I knew going into the offseason we had something special,” Mobley said. “We just had the underdog role.”

Both teams are headed off to the state playoffs. While Garnet Valley’s Cinderella district run ended, the Jaguars will face District 3 fifth seed Central York. Lower Merion gets District 3 sixth seed Cedar Crest to start its run. 

There are goals of adding even more to the trophy case. But the Aces listened to their coach and made sure they enjoyed Saturday night.

“I definitely looked around a couple times,” McCabe said, “It’s something special. To do it with this group of guys is real special.”

Lower Merion 57, Garnet Valley 49

By Quarter

Garnet Valley  3 | 15 | 11 | 20 || 49
Lower Merion  11 | 15 | 13 | 18 || 57


GV: Jake Sniras 15, Brady Krautzel 14, Quinn O’Hara 12, Jack Krautzel 5, Grayson Golek 3.

LM: John Mobley 17, Carson Kasmer 11, Owen McCabe 10, Justin Mebane 8, Jayden Robinson 6, Adam Herrenkohl 5.

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Tag(s): Home  High School  Boys HS  Central League (B)  Garnet Valley  Lower Merion