By PETER DiGIOVANNI
TREDDYFRIN - They say defense wins championships. Well, in the second round of the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs at Conestoga High School on Tuesday, the top-seeded Pioneers rode a sparkling team defensive performance, including a big block late in the game by Martin Dorsey, to a thrilling 45-40 win over No. 18 Methacton.
The win qualifies them for the PIAA Class AAAA tournament and keeps their hopes of winning the district title alive. Conestoga will now play Central League foe Lower Merion Friday night at home for the right to go to the District 1 Final Four at Temple University. Lower Merion has defeated Conestoga twice already this season, but the Pioneers are happy for the matchup with the highly touted Aces."It was my main goal for our team before the season started to make the state playoffs,' Zack Yonda said. "And to get Lower Merion on our floor in the playoffs is what I live for. It is going to be a great game.'Methacton must travel to Penn Wood on Friday in the play-back round with a state berth still possible.Conestoga (22-4) had control of the game from the outset as the Warriors (16-9) struggled to make shots from the field. Methacton shot just 14-for-46 on the night and 5-for-23 in the first half when they fell into a 20-13 hole.Conestoga seemed a step quicker and were getting good looks inside due to some great interior passing from Darryl Caldwell and Dan Vila, while the Warriuors were settling for outside shots."We struggled to get our shots to fall,' Methacton coach Jeff Derstine said. "But, we really battled back and had the lead down to three. They are a very good team and they have a deep bench. there is not much drop off when they go to the bench. We started to hit some shots in the fourth period and I am proud of the way the kids battled back, but it is tough to win when you only score 13 points in the first half.'
Conestoga broke the game open in the third period, Yonda, who led all scorers with 15 points, and point guard Darryl Caldwell, were the key players in the uprising. When Caldwell scored off a turnover late in the period for a 30-21 lead, it looked like a decisive blow against the Warriors as they went into the fourth trailing, 34-23.
But, looks can be deceiving. Sean Mann drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 36-30 game with 5:43 to play and it was game on. Vila answered for Conestoga as he scored from in tight to bump the lead to eight.
Methacton scored four straight points to cut the advantage in half, and was looking for more. Up went Mann for another long 3-point try, but Dorsey flew up and blocked the shot. He gathered in the loose ball and fed Andrew Diehl, who threw down a monster slam for a 40-34 lead as the home crowd was on its feet."The same guy just hit a 3-pointer for them ,so when I saw them go for it again I knew I had to go get it,' Dorsey said. "And I was lucky enough to block it and give the ball to Diehl for the throw down. It was a tough game and they came back, so I knew I had to make a play. And to be honest, I am glad we are going to be playing Lower Merion. They have beaten us twice this season, but now we get them on our home court and this place will be packed and we hopefully can beat them and send the crowd home happy."We are excited to make states, but we want to win the district championshi,p so we have to get by Lower Merion to do that.'
Dorsey's and Diehl's heroics did not stop Methacton however. Mann came back down the floor and drilled another 3-ball to cut the lead to 40-37 with 1:27 to play. Conestoga called time and coach Mike Troy had his team spread the floor and put the ball into Caldwell's hands. The star sophomore dribbled off some clock, then was fouled and hit two free throws to make it a 42-37 game with 1:02 to play.
Methacton's cold shooting ways came back to haunt them as they couldn't make a dent in the lead and the top seed was moving on.
"It is a great thing for these kids to make the state playoffs,' Troy said. "It is a tribute to how hard they have worked and their work ethic. Tonight, our defense and our defensive rebounding won the basketball game for us. To play Lower Merion, or anybody, is the same thing at this point. We just play who is in front of us and hopefully, try to get to our goal.'
Conestoga 45, Methacton 40
METHACTON: Ardman 3 3-4 10, Mann 2 0-0 6, Jenkins 4 3-3 11, Ruhl 1 0-0 3, Aldefer 1 0-0 2, Dyer 2 0-0 5, Tornetta 1 0-0 3. Totals 14 6-7 40.
CONESTOGA: Yonda 4 7-8 15, Vila 4 1-8 9, Caldwell 2 3-4 7, Diehl 2 1-3 5, Larkin 1 0-0 3, Vanderventer 1 0-0 2, Dorsey 1 2-3 4, Knight 0 0-0 0, Utter 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 14-26 45.
Methacton 6 7 10 17-40
Conestoga 9 11 14 11 -45
3-point goals: Mann2, Ruhl, Tornetta, Dyer, Larkin.