by Jonathan Vander Lugt
For three years, Springside Chestnut Hill basketball has gone without a conference win.
Their Friday, January 9, 2015 victory over Penn Charter was the last time they did it. They’ve weathered back-to-back winless league seasons, and led off 2018 with yet another blowout loss – an 88-52 drubbing at the hands of Malvern Prep.
Against Germantown Academy Friday night, SCH had its best chance in years to finally end the streak. The Blue Devils, though still young and occasionally frustrating, are clearly as talented as they’ve been in recent seasons. GA, on the other hand, is following an opposite trajectory. A year after a fifth consecutive Inter-Ac crown, a five-senior exodus has left the cupboard bare. The Pats returned only one player with meaningful varsity minutes, and now appear in danger of their first losing season in almost three decades.
All of this context was likely – subconsciously, at least – on the mind of Ke’Shawn Williams on Friday as he lined up on the charity stripe with less than 10 seconds to go. The SCH guard so perfectly represents the moment in which Blue Devils find themselves – raw, talented, growing, frustrating and occasionally brilliant – that, karmically, it’s no surprise that the ball ended up in his hands with the game on the line.
Springside Chestnut Hill was up 54-53, after nearly four quarters of intense back-and-forth basketball. The Blue Devils had been in control throughout, though they never really separated themselves.
Their largest lead was eight. Often, they’d extend an advantage only to see the Pats pull right back. In the past, those Patriot mini-comebacks would have snowballed. SCH would see the opposition nail a couple of quick buckets, get down on themselves and be trailing by six or eight or 10 before they even really knew it.
“Those are the little moments and little snapshots that can get you beat,” SCH head coach Julian McFadden said. He elaborated: it’s times like missing a couple of open looks and seeing your opponents go on short 4-0 or 6-0 runs that build and build. “That kind of stuff will kill you especially when you’re a young team.”
Friday night though, none of that happened. SCH remained composed.
Williams drained his first free throw, lifting a collective weight off the shoulders of SCH. Up 55-53, the Pats needed a basket to even tie, and an unlikely three to pull off the win.
Another free throw would have all but sealed it for Williams and the Blue Devils. That, however, would be too perfect.
Williams lofted his second attempt and bricked it. The ball caromed to the right, and instead of becoming disenchanted, Williams darted after the rebound.
He was the only Blue Devil in a sea of white Patriot jerseys, and from the seat of his pants somehow got his hands on the ball and called a timeout.
“He was the only one down there,” McFadden said. “He’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever met. You can see it on the floor – he believes that no one can take it from him.”
Germantown Academy managed to get control of the ball after the inbound, but Jordan Longino’s last-second three-point heave was well off the mark.
For the first time in three seasons, Springside Chestnut Hill had finally won an Inter-Ac game.
“I think we just wanted it a little more,” McFadden said. “The kids can feel it, the school can feel it. It goes a long way toward rebuilding the program and hopefully getting people more excited to come out.”
Williams led the team with 14, and Zyon Grant chipped in with 11, all scored in the second half. Jack McDonald notched 12.
“We felt so dejected after the Malvern game where we came out and laid an egg,” said McFadden. “All week we really harped on the little stuff. It had nothing to do with Xs and Os – it was about intensity and playing as hard as you can.”
The Blue Devils have a long road ahead, as most of the Inter-Ac looks as talented as it typically is. Haverford School, the pre-season favorite, is off to a stellar start. Malvern Prep has won its first two by over 60 combined. Episcopal Academy, despite dropping each of its first two, looks strong.
That’s not mention neighborhood rival Penn Charter, as well as a GA team that will almost certainly come out energized the next time around. Next week, the Blue Devils will go toe-to-toe with the Haverford School and PC.
That’s for the future though. In the moment, McFadden and the Blue Devils are content to bask in the win.
“I think we’ve got to live on this feeling a little bit,” McFadden said. “Sometimes you have to really live in that feeling and go over what they did right. It’s not always about going after what the kids aren’t doing – you have to go back and show them how things worked.”
For as bright as McFadden looked after the game, GA head coach Jim Fenerty looked as weary as he has in years.
“We played exactly how we practiced yesterday. We had a terrible practice – we were listless,” Fenerty said. “Against Haverford (the Pats lost 84-70 to the Fords in their league opener Tuesday), we did make some youthful mistakes, but at least they weren’t mistakes of effort. This is a really tough lesson to learn.”
Longino led the team and the gym with 24 points and among his teammates, no one reached double digits. Zach Anderson came the closest with nine, and Lacey Snowden and Brian Basile combined for just five.
“Neither one of them really brought the energy that we needed,” Fenerty said. “This team can’t win with Jordan Longino being the only scorer. Zach Anderson tried hard and played well, but we need that third scorer.”
Next week’s docket features games at archrival Penn Charter and Episcopal.
“We have to understand what it takes to win in the Inter-Ac,” Fenerty said. “Having bad practices and taking people for granted just isn’t going to get it done.”