MALVERN — Champions — a word that has eluded the Hill School boys' lips in PAISAA tournament play.
At least until Saturday night.
Bryce Allen scored 12 of his 13 points in the first quarter while John Carroll poured in a game-high 17 points as the Hill School clinched its first Pa. Independent Schools Athletic Association title, hitting free throws late to avoid a comeback bid from Westtown in a 56-50 victory on Saturday night at Malvern.
The victory on Saturday is the first PAISAA final win for the school. The Blues finished as a runner-up in the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons.
"It's a special team at Hill,' Hill School head coach Seth Eilberg said, his suit drenched after his team doused him with water bottles inside the team's locker room postgame. "It's even more special when you have a chance to go against a top team (Westtown).'
"It feels great,' Allen said. "We just came out feeling it. There was nothing left to lose. It was our last game. Everyone was playing for each other.'
The Hill had built a 42-31 advantage after three quarters but Westtown's Jair Bolden and Jared Nickens did their best to spoil the Blues' quest for a first PAISAA title. The duo sprung for 15 of the team's 19 fourth-quarter points as Nickens, a Maryland commit, tallied 10 of his team-high 15 points, including a 3-pointer that cut the Blues' lead to eight with four minutes remaining. Bolden then hit a 3-pointer followed by a tough take to the rim to cut the deficit down to 54-48, but the Blues showed a deft touch at the free throw line, knocking down 8-of-12 from the line to seal the victory.
"It was a little nerve-racking at first (Westtown's comeback) but I knew we'd pull it out at the end,' Carroll said. "I was a little nervous but we kept hitting our free throws. This is the best team I've ever played on. We beat some unbelievable teams (Westtown, Blair twice, Peddie).'
"They were bound to start making shots and turn us over with as athletic and as good as they are,' Eilberg said. "Luckily we had built enough of a lead to hold on in the last minute.'
Allen came out with a torrid touch from beyond the arc as the sophomore point guard hit four of the team's six 3-pointers in the opening frame. With John Carroll receiving special attention from Westtown's 7-footer Georgios Papagiannis (a highly-touted college prospect that has been receiving looks from NBA scouts already), Allen scored the team's first 12 points — all from beyond the arc — as the Blues opened up a 12-6 lead midway through the first.
"Bryce is probably our best 3-point shooter. Tonight they made the choice to keep their 7-footer (Papagiannis) in the lane and to help on John a lot and that freed him (Allen) up to be aggressive.'
Papagiannis finished the game with five points for Westtown.
"He's going to be an NBA player I think. He's as good as I've seen,' Eilberg said. "Our plan was to try and get up on him and speed him up and pressure him as much as we can.'
With Westtown's Habib N'Garnim finding himself comfortable along the perimeter as well, knocking down a trey to cut it to 12-9, Matt Foltz and Sam Norton took control, scoring the Blues' last 10 points en route to a 10-3 run to close out the quarter. Both Foltz and Norton finished with seven points.
"You got to come out and make shots,' Eilberg said. "Right from the start we made shots and we were able to build enough of a lead that we could hold on.'
Carroll came alive in the second quarter, scoring seven of the team's eight points while helping the Blues pave out a 30-14 lead entering halftime. Carroll was back at it in the third and the fourth as he poured in nine more points, including the two free-throws to seal the 56-50 victory.
"The win feels great. My knee is killing me but I'm so glad its over, so glad that we pulled it out.'
The Hill School matched a season-high finishing the game with nine 3-pointers — four of those coming from Allen. Westtown's 12 points in the first quarter all came from beyond the arc. Bolden finished the game with 15 points while Edvinas Rupkus finished with eight. James Fives finished the game with nine points — seven of those points coming in the fourth quarter.