Anthony Dabbundo (@AnthonyDabbundo)
As Spring-Ford’s 10-point lead over Methacton was slowly slipping away in the fourth quarter, it felt like déjà vu for head coach Chris Talley.
Talley and the Rams had been in this position before, just six days ago against rival Phoenixville, but gave up a 22-point lead in to lose to the rival Phantoms.
This time, the Rams got the job done.
By outscoring the Warriors 6-0 in the final 90 seconds, Spring-Ford pulled out a critical 52-47 league road win against a much-improved Methacton team.
“It’s huge for our confidence,” Talley said. “We’ve really struggled with the lead, but tonight, in a hostile environment, the kids made big foul shots and when we needed stops, we got them.”
After collapsing in the fourth quarter last Wednesday in an eventual one-point loss to the Phantoms, Spring-Ford was determined to finish strong.
Trailing 47-46 with 1:20 left, the Rams finished off the Warriors with defensive intensity and clutch free throw shooting, both of which were lacking when they allowed Phoenixville to put together a 20-0 run last week.
When it mattered most, Spring-Ford turned to Nestor Diaz and Adam Geremski, who were a combined 6-of-6 from the line in the final minute to secure the victory
After a slow first half for the Rams junior guard, Diaz responded in the final quarter, scoring nine of his game-high 15 in the last eight minutes, including four free throws to seal the win.
Those free throws, combined with a defensive intensity that was lacking for most of the night, proved the difference as the Warriors were 0-of-4 from the field in the final minute.
“We were flat the whole game,” Talley said. “This is a tough place to play, and they dictated the pace the entire night and kept us out of rhythm.”
After preaching to his team all season about piecing together ‘three big stops’ in succession, Spring-Ford finally answered the call, forcing multiple contested threes in the final seconds that Methacton was unable to connect on.
On a night when two of the Rams’ three leading scorers, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Diaz, struggled to get going for the first three quarters, it was senior shooter Nick Heller who helped spark the offense.
Heller hit three huge 3-pointers, finishing with nine. points. One triple with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter extended the Spring-Ford lead to 10.
“He’s been doing it all year, in practice, and in games,” Talley said. “I’m very proud of him, he’s stepped up, and we needed every bit of his shooting tonight.”
After playing on the junior varsity team exclusively as a sophomore and junior, Heller has worked hard in the offseason to earn every minute he gets on the varsity team this year.
“I worked a lot in the summer, lost about 20 pounds, and I’ve accepted my role as a shooter,” Heller said. “It’s nice to know if I’m open in the corner my teammates will get it to me.”
After Heller’s three, which capped an 8-0 run to give Spring-Ford its largest lead of the night, it seemed the Rams were ready to pull away.
But thanks to a 3-pointer by Methacton sophomore David Duda and a three-point play by senior Noah Kitaw, the Warriors found themselves right back in the game.
“That run they had was significant,” Methacton head coach Jeff Derstine said. “Even though we fought back from 10 down, we didn’t want to let them get out in the open floor and run.”
“There were a few moments that they beat us down the court and got wide open looks,” he continued.
Heller, alongside junior center Austin Hokanson, had their hands full defensively, trying to guard Methacton freshman sensation Jeff Woodward. The 6-8 big man may be a freshman, but he certainly doesn’t play like one.
“He’s a huge defensive presence for us,” Derstine said. “He allows us to chase guys off the line and he deters shots.”
Woodward finished with 11 points to lead his team, with all 11 coming either around the rim or on the free throw line.
“Offensively, teams have to figure out how to prevent him from scoring consistently in the paint,” he went on to say.
Spring-Ford may not have stopped Woodward, but when it counted, they finally were able to close out a victory.
For senior guard Chucky Drummond and the Rams, it’s one major problem solved.
“It was huge to come into this gym, against this team, and come out with the W,” Drummond said.