by Jonathan Vander Lugt
Late in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night at Germantown Academy, reality had begun to sink in.
Malvern Prep had held tight for a good portion of the game’s duration. The first quarter ended at 24-all, and the half at 46-44 in favor of Germantown Academy.
Then, Kyle McCloskey turned on the jets. He had already scored 18 in the first half, but came out like a man on fire to start the game’s latter frames. After 14 third-quarter points, the Patriots led 70-58. Twelve more in the fourth helped balloon the lead to 17.
By then, the game had less than two minutes remaining. Everybody in the gym knew what the contest’s outcome was going to be.
GA head coach Jim Fenerty pulled his starters with a shade under a minute left, and the group of them—senior leaders McCloskey and Evan-Eric Longino included—began to understand the magnitude of the moment they were in.
The Patriots were about to clinch an unprecedented fifth-consecutive Inter-Ac championship.
“It was just a feeling of relief—almost pure joy that overcame all of us. It was a great feeling to know that all of our hard work from the past four years—every practice or shoot-around—really made the difference,” McCloskey said. “Coming out and realizing we were going to win, it’s a feeling that you can’t really describe.”
“For us seniors, we’ve never lost a league championship,” he went on. “Especially for Evan-Eric and I, we told ourselves that we weren’t leaving the court without one.”
Without those two, the 87-80 victory that sealed what wound up being a championship tie with the Episcopal Academy certainly wouldn’t have been possible. Longino did what he normally does—barrel and shoot his way to 25 points—but McCloskey’s performance was nothing short of brilliant.
He lit the gym on fire with a 44-point performance—the highest of the Inter-Ac this season. He knocked down 17 buckets from the field, including five from deep.
It was his second 40-point night in the league season (the first, a 43-point outburst, came with five overtimes worth of extra minutes against the Haverford School). In the Pats’ six-game winning streak to close the conference season, he averaged just under 28 per game.
If not for a hard commit to play quarterback at Villanova next year, Division I basketball programs—if they aren’t regardless—would likely be knocking on his door.
“In our first game against Malvern at Malvern, Fran Dunphy was being honored for being their coach in the 70s,” Fenerty said. Dunphy, a Philly college coaching legend, currently helms the Temple men’s basketball program.
“After we came back from 19 down against them, he called me and said, ‘That kid McCloskey will simply not be denied.’”
“He’s been a warrior for us, straight across the board,” Fenerty said. “Throughout it all, he’s always kept grounded. He’s as talented a player as we’ve ever had.”
He didn’t do it alone though. It’s hard to imagine a player, night-in-and-night-out, who scores almost 25 points getting overshadowed, but scoring in spades is what Longino did all year with remarkable consistency. He wasn’t always flashy, but he got the job done.
“Evan-Eric is as good of a player as we’ve ever had,” Fenerty said. “He’s going to go out with numbers that are in our top five or six in the school’s history.”
Only seven times in 26 games (to date) did he score less than 20 points, and only once was he held in single figures.
After starting league play with two losses in its first four games, GA needed to lean on the pair of them for strength, and that’s what they provided.
“I don’t think that anyone was really picking us in the beginning of the year, and it’s pretty amazing to win six straight with some crazy ones—five overtimes against the Haverford School, coming back from 19 down in the first game against Malvern,” McCloskey said. “We knew that every game was a must-win, and we played every one like a championship, and that’s why we were able to win six straight in the league.”
“When we lost the second game in the league, I had been complaining, as a coach, about our practices,” Fenerty said. “Our practices, from that game forward, were excellent. I give it to the senior leadership. They basically said, ‘We ain’t losing.”
They didn’t, and now they have another feather in their caps, banner on the wall, or record in the book—whatever metaphor you want to use.
The point is, after an early roller-coaster, Germantown Academy will reign king in the Inter-Ac for another year.
Jonathan Vander Lugt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org