Nestor Diaz (above) is the only Spring-Ford starter left from a state appearance two years ago. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Tyler Sandora (@Tyler_Sandora)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2017-18 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
Two years ago, head coach Chris Talley and Spring-Ford basketball made history with its first ever win in the PIAA state tournament, defeating Spring Grove and current Michigan guard Eli Brooks.
Only one player from that historic team is still wearing a Ram uniform, senior guard Nestor Diaz.
The 5-11 point guard started as a sophomore for the Rams, and played a big role in the run to the state tournament. Since he’s the only returning player with experience beyond the district tournament, Diaz hopes to show the rest of the team what it takes to get there.
“It’s big,” Diaz said. ”Team is more important than myself. I learned a lot, just from playing with seniors....coach Talley has taught me a lot.”
“It’s exciting. It's an experience we wish every senior class could have,” Talley said. “To have your program in the same sentence as the 32 best teams left in the state is something that you don't take for granted. It’s not something that just happens, you’ve got to work for it.”
Last season, the Rams finished the regular season with a record of 17-7 (11-2 PAC). They fell to rival Perk Valley in the Pioneer Athletic Conference championship game, and were seeded ninth in the PIAA District One 6A tournament, After a first round win against Avon Grove, Spring-Ford fell to Cheltenham sending them to the playback rounds.
After defeating Garnet Valley, the Rams were set to host Downingtown West in a win or go home game, with the winner advancing to states.
The Rams fell to the Whippets 70-64, ending their hopes for a third state appearance in four years.
“I think that is a big motivating factor for them,” Talley said. “Losing the PAC championship to [Perk Valley] and losing to be the first team out of states, I don’t think they have forgotten in the offseason. The margin of error is slim at that time. We’re one good box out away or a turnover away from a good win.”
“It would mean the world,” junior Noah Baker said. “We want to win the PAC championship, win districts, and make states.”
Diaz averaged 9.3 points per contest last year, and is the floor general for this Rams offense. He is most effective in the half-court setting, where he can direct his teammates. His jump shot has made strides, and he’s one of the go-to defenders as well.
Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chucky Drummond, who graduated in the spring, were the only big pieces in the Rams success that aren’t back this year.
Noah Baker (above), a strong 6-3 wing, is one of the more versatile players in Pioneer Athletic Conference. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Baker, a guard/forward, is not only an emerging star for the Rams, but all of District 1. A 6-foot-3, uber-athletic wing, Baker has made numerous improvements to his game in the past year. He’s got athleticism to finish above the rim, and his jump shot is coming along very well.
“He is not a secret anymore,” Talley said. “I think a lot of people have heard about Noah Baker. I think his best basketball is still ahead of him.”
“It was a really fun experience to play as a sophomore,” Baker said. “I didn’t start at the beginning of the year, but I worked my way into the lineup. I hustled. I did the little things.”
The last guard spot will likely be filed by either junior Ryan Hagan, or senior Harrison Pierce. Both 6-foot, Hagan and Pierce are known for their shooting abilities, and their contributions of the defensive end. Hagan saw limited minutes last season, while Pierce was sidelined with a concussion.
A young guard the Rams coaching staff is excited about is sophomore guard Tre Medearis. He’s already 6-2, and with a long, lanky frame, don’t be surprised if he grows a few more inches before he’s done at Spring-Ford.
As for the frontcourt, senior Austin Hokanson looks to complement his successful junior year (11.2 ppg) with an even better senior season. He now stands 6-5 the tallest on the team, but that wasn’t always the case. The athletic big man has sprouted up about four or five inches in the past two years, and has taken an increased role in the Rams program.
He’ll be joined in the paint by junior Robert Bobeck. Bobeck, who saw his minutes increase towards the end of his sophomore season, is a bulky 6-4 forward who can step out and hit the mid-range jumper.
You won’t find one Spring-Ford player averaging a ton more than the next guy, something Talley, the fifth-year coach and Spring-Ford graduate, wouldn’t want any other way.
“As a coaching staff we talk about how this team moves the ball as good as we’ve coached before,” Talley said. “They’re unselfish basketball players. The way we play, we don’t want to have a 25 point scorer. We want 13 across the board. We want kids who want to play together.
“We talk about the little things,” he continued. “When we are equal to another team, we have to find the little things to better them. The loose balls, hustle plays, anything to get an advantage on other teams.”
The Rams will open up their season on the road against CB West, an evenly matched District One opponent. After that, they’ll take on pennsbury and hempfield before traveling cross-country to San Diego for a Christmas tournament.
With three returning starters back from a year ago, the Rams hope to get back to the state tournament, and they’ve got a good idea what it takes to get there.
“Thats our goal,” Talley said. “We’ve been there twice. Every time we step on the floor for a new season we hope to compete for our league playoffs, qualify for districts and make the states. That’s the standard we want to have and the kids wouldn’t want it any other way.”