Anthony Dabbundo (@AnthonyDabbundo)
It seemed as though Germantown Academy’s run of four straight Inter-Ac titles was coming to an end when the Patriots were trailing by 19 midway through the second quarter against Malvern Prep back on January 20.
After winning the league title each of their first three seasons at GA, that’s not how this group of seniors -- led by Kyle McCloskey and Evan-Eric Longino -- wanted to go out.
The Patriots battled back to win that game and the next four -- none more important than Friday night, when they overcame an early first-quarter deficit to defeat Episcopal Academy 54-50.
“We just wanted to come out and give ourselves a shot to stay in this race,” Patriots’ head coach Jim Fenerty said.
Germantown Academy (18-6, 7-2) now finds itself sitting tied with Episcopal (14-10, 7-2) at the top of the Inter-Ac standings. With the two teams having split their two regular season meetings, they will share the league title if both teams win Tuesday night in the league finale.
Just a few short weeks ago, it seemed as though the Patriots were out of it.
“We were staring down the barrel at our hopes to win the Inter-Ac,” McCloskey said. “We knew every single game after that was a must-win if we wanted to win the Inter-Ac.”
That 72-65 comeback win over Malvern, along with a thrilling 100-98 four overtime epic win over The Haverford School set the Patriots up for Friday, needing a win to keep Episcopal from clinching the league title.
“One thing we said to them before the game was that we’ve been in this spot before, when our seniors were sophomores,” Fenerty said. “We had to come here and win, that time it was to clinch the championship.”
McCloskey and Longino both started in that game as sophomores -- they’ve each been starters since freshman year -- and they wanted to make sure they gave themselves a chance to go out on top, like the seniors of the past three years have done.
This class did not want to be the class to break the streak of league titles. Their backs may have been against the wall, but the Patriots finally turned the season around.
“We’ve played in these games for four years now,” McCloskey said. “We’ve been on top the last three years and we want to leave on top.”
The Patriots will have a chance to finish on top, if they can conquer Malvern Prep (5-4), Tuesday night, while the Churchmen take on SCH Academy (0-9).
Fenerty is hoping his team does not find itself down 19 this time around, defending its home court with a whole lot more to play for.
“If we’re gonna spot Malvern a 19-point lead again, the kids need to let me know now so I can go out and buy a year's supply of Tums,” he joked.
After the first few minutes of Friday’s game, Fenerty could have used some antacids.
Early in the first quarter, the Churchmen jumped out to a 12-4 lead behind early scoring from their senior superstars Nick Alikakos and Conner Delaney. The two combined for 13 of the Churchmen’s opening 15 points.
Fenerty decided to go into a 2-3 matchup zone, and the game changed in an instant. They forced the Churchmen to try to shoot over the zone, and while Delaney and Alikakos did plenty of scoring, it was not enough.
“I always like to start in man defense to get the defense into the game, but they are a very tough to team to match up with,” Fenerty said.
Delaney finished with 21 points in a losing effort, while Alikakos added a double-double, 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Once the second quarter rolled around, McCloskey and Longino began to control the game, beating their men off the dribble, getting to the rim, and hitting numerous pull-up jump shots.
The senior duo combined for 13 of the Patriots’ 15 second quarter points, whilst the stingy defense allowed just seven points and 25 percent shooting (3-of-12) from the field.
As Longino’s pull up three smoothly swished through the hoop as time expired, the Patriots took a five point lead into the break, and never trailed again. Despite multiple attempts from the Churchmen to battle back into the game, McCloskey and Longino were having none of it.
The senior stars finished with 22 and 21 points, respectively.
In a game where only four players scored for each team, it was the clutch shooting from McCloskey and Longino that proved the difference.
“We both know that when both of us are on, we can beat anyone,” McCloskey said.
Both McCloskey and Longino want to end their careers on top, and they were having it no other way. For now, the Patriots are still the league champions, and despite plenty of turmoil this season, they find themselves exactly where they want to be entering the final game.
In first place.
“I told them the Inter-Ac championship is still going to run through Fort Washington,” Fenerty said. “If we have to share a title with Craig Conlin and the Episcopal guys, I am fine with that.”