HAVERFORD — When the final buzzer sounded Tuesday night, the Haverford half of a sold-out crowd spilled onto the floor for a celebration 44 years in the making. For the first time since Steve Joachim and Ray Edeleman got them to the 1970 state final before falling, the Fords were headed to the PIAA Tournament.
"Just look around," said Haverford coach Keith Heinerichs, gesturing to the mob of red and yellow that engulfed his team. "We worked hard every day for this."
How long had the drought been? Well, when senior captain Tom Leibig climbed the ladder to ceremoniously cut down the net, Heinerichs had to instruct him on how it's done.
"The top strings," the coach said, miming a cutting motion with his fingers.
To be fair to Leibig, it was his best look at the basket in the tough 47-37 victory over Wissahickon. No one could fault him for lingering.
The Fords' leading scorer throughout the regular season and these playoffs faced tight man-to-man coverage and double-teams all night. Leibig didn't register a point until after the first-half buzzer had gone, a free throw with zeroes on the clock.
But his teammates stepped up in his place. Ryan Clancy hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the first quarter. Ben Parker came off the bench for a three in the second. And, speaking of celebrations, birthday boy Jim Roe connected on two first-half 3s as well.
"We're a team," said Heinerichs of Haverford's secondary scoring. "Jimmy (Roe) came off the bench tonight. Ben Parker was huge against Souderton. It's a different guy every night."
The Fords carried a 22-18 lead into the intermission, but the Trojans were closing quickly. Wissahickon's guard duo of Chase Wilson and Chris Carradorini combined for 27 points, most of which came in the second and third quarters. A Brandon Pace layup gave the Trojans a 25-24 third quarter lead, their first since the opening minutes of the game.
"We didn't have that great of a second and third quarter," Haverford senior Chris Lyons said. "We knew if we played like we usually do, like we did in the first quarter, we could beat them."
Which for Lyons involved a simple remedy.
"Shooting the 3 and playing great defense. It's what we've done all year," he said.
Wissahickon's lead was as brief as it was slim. Leibig came back with his first two field goals of the evening to key the Fords' late game run.
In a fourth quarter that saw Haverford outscore the Trojans 16-11, it was Roe who fittingly provided the icing on the cake. He connected on two more threes to seal the victory.
"Once I'm hot, I can't miss," Roe said following his memorable 4-for-5 birthday performance. "I enjoy shooting. My immediate thought is if I'm open, I get my feet set and shoot."
And like the rest of his Haverford teammates, Roe contributed defensively as well. His fourth quarter included a lunging block of a Carradorini 3-point attempt. The play wasn't lost on a coach who preaches defensive effort to his backup guard.
"I told him 'Your 3s don't matter if you let (Carradorini) hit his 3s,'" Heinerichs said.
Lyons continued to grab rebounds down the stretch — he had eight in total to go with eleven points — and the Fords hit enough free throws to ease to the 10-point win. Jack Donaghy, who stifled Wilson late in the game, counted down the final seconds with the ball in his hands before being swarmed by teammates and fans alike.
"When you get this close, you never know when you'll get back," Heinerichs said. "You have to take advantage. Soak it in."
Lyons was at a near loss for words.
"It's just awesome," he said before his gaze circled the gym, capturing the moment that had eluded his school for decades. "Awesome."
As for Roe, he's had plenty of birthday celebrations before. None, however, like Tuesday.
"This is easily my best birthday," he said.
As if there was any doubt.