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Marple runs win streak to six to enter playoff picture

01/30/2018, 11:30pm EST
By Josh Verlin

Anthony Paoletti (above) came up with a big-time hustle play to help Marple Newtown past Springfield (Delco.) on Tuesday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Anthony Paoletti is tough.

That was made clear by the fourth quarter of a game at Springfield (Delco.) on Tuesday night, by which point the Marple Newtown senior had already taken a third-quarter pop to the head that required him to go see the trainer to stem some bleeding. He quickly came back out to finish the game, despite needing to go to the hospital afterwards to get some stitches.

But it was confirmed when Paoletti saw a loose ball bouncing around the court with a minute to play in the fourth quarter, he didn’t hesitate. With his Tigers clinging to a quickly-dwindling lead and desperate for something good to happen, Paoletti threw himself on the floor, securing further possession for his team.

“I saw a ball on the ground and I said ‘(shoot), I’ve got an opportunity,’” he said. “That’s all.”

Several seconds later, after a teammate missed a foul shot, Paoletti drew his own foul going for yet another offensive board. His free throws found the mark, and helped lift Marple to a 56-47 over Springfield to help continue a late-season turnaround for the Tigers.

Poeletti can’t swear that his court-diving instincts come from his work on the gridiron, where the University of Delaware-bound quarterback led Marple into the state football playoffs this year. But he’s not counting it out.

“I’m sure it does,” he said. “I hear a lot of people yelling from the stands saying ‘this is not football,’ so I guess that’s what it is.”

Whatever it is, it’s contagious.

Just a minute later, his classmate Michael May did his own court dive, coming away with a big-time hustle steal to help Marple Newtown secure its sixth win in a row.

“We do drills like that every other day in practice -- taking charges, running across the floor, slide,” Marple Newtown coach Sean Spratt said. “So it’s just to build those ingrained, and when times like this happen, they don’t even think about it, they just do it.”

In addition to his game-ending steal (and the free throws that followed), May also hit two enormous shots earlier in the fourth quarter. With Marple holding a 41-40 lead, his floater in the lane and then two foul shots extended the lead to five with four minutes to play; one minute later, a 3-pointer from straightaway made it a 50-42 advantage with 2:56 remaining.

Gutsy shot indeed from a 5-11 senior who was just 4-for-15 from the floor, but certainly came up big when needed.

Michael May (above) had 9 of his 15 points during the fourth quarter. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“When I’m open, I’m shooting the ball, I’m not hesitating at all, no matter how I’m shooting that night,” May said. “If I’m open, I’m shooting the ball.”

Springfield senior Mike Webb made sure his team didn’t fold at that point, getting to the line six times in the last two minutes, making five, to polish off a 28-point night and get his team back to within three points with 68 seconds remaining.

That’s when Paoletti threw his body around, his two foul shots re-extending he lead to five with under a minute to play. May sealed it with his defensive stop on the following possession.

As a team, the Tigers had eight steals, a major part of 12 Cougar turnovers.

Junior guard Tommy Gardler added 14 points for Marple, 11 of which came in the first quarter as he canned three early 3-pointers. Six other players chipped in between two and six points, including Paoletti (6 points/6 rebounds), senior forward Matt Peel (5 points/7 rebounds/3 steals) and senior Alden Mathis (5 points/5 rebounds).

“We’re a team full of athletes, not just basketball players,” Paoletti said. “We’re gritty kids, so we go out in practice every day and we practice hard, we get on each other’s backs, and times like this when we need to be tough, we showed we’ll get down on the ground and make defensive stops. We base ourselves off our defensive approach to games now instead of scoring the basketball.”

That defensive approach is why Marple (11-8, 7-6) has been able to save its season during the month of January.

Three weeks after the Tigers looked like they’d be well short of a playoff berth for the third season in a row, sitting at just 5-8 overall and 2-6 in Central League play and on a six-game losing streak, suddenly they’re very much in the mix for the postseason.

“After the Sun Valley game, we were embarrassed with ourselves,” Paoletti said, referencing a 59-42 loss on Jan. 13. “We were just frustrated with the way we were playing, the way we were approaching practice, the way we were approaching each other. Since that game, since we discussed with each other, we’re 6-0 and we don’t plan on stopping here.”

Marple hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2014-15, when current East Stroudsburg junior Nick Giordano led a Tigers squad that earned the No. 31 seed in the old AAAA district tournament and bowed out to Methacton in the first round.

Making the four-team league playoffs is nearly impossible for Marple this year, with Lower Merion and Penncrest both sitting with two losses and three teams (Garnet Valley, Upper Darby and Conestoga) tied with four losses behind them with three league games to play. But the Tigers are currently the unofficial No. 11 seed in the District 1 5A tournament, which sees 16 teams qualify, seven of which make it to the state bracket.

Springfield (7-11, 7-6) entered the evening No. 15 in the 5A picture, and dropped one spot after the loss.

If the Tigers can find a way to beat Radnor, Harriton and then Penncrest over their final three regular-season games, they’ll put themselves in a position to host a first-round game.

“I’ve never played in a district game, but having a home district playoff game would be an amazing experience,” May said, adding: “We’re going one game at a time right now, we’re not focusing on playoffs yet. When we get there, we’ll get into it.”

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