No one said anything about the box sitting in the middle of the Lower Merion locker room. It was kind of slipped in without anyone noticing. So when the Aces arrived, joyous and back-slapping each other, they didn’t know the surprise that awaited them.
In the box were blue t-shirts with a message: “Penn State Bound.” It was the reward for Lower Merion demolishing Cathedral Prep, 79-48, at Bald Eagle Regional High School Wednesday night, to secure the Aces' first return trip to the PIAA Class AAAA state championship game since 2006.
Lower Merion will play defending state champion Chester at 8 p.m. Saturday in Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center, after Darryl Reynolds and B.J. Johnson each poured in 18 points to lead the Aces. Mike Robbins scored 16 and JaQuan Johnson had 13.
“It’s really unbelievable, this really can’t compare to anything else,” Reynolds said. “After the first quarter, we got a chance to sit down and figure out what we needed to do, and did it. Defense is what led to our offense and we really stepped up our energy.”
There were five lead changes in the first quarter, but a Robbins three-point shot with 29.8 seconds left in the quarter was the final bounce in the score the Aces seemed to need. Lower Merion applied suffocating defense and went on a 17-0, four-minute run that determined the sway of the game.
Cathedral Prep had closed to within 21-20 midway into the second quarter, but Reynolds, B.J. Johnson, Raheem Hall and Yohanny Dalembert proved to be a little too long, a little too fast and a little too smothering for Cathedral Prep to deal with.
“We played a clean game,” Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer said. “Our turnovers are down and we had to watch for their three-point shooters. We played real well defensively near the basket.”
Cathedral Prep never closed within 10 points the remainder of the game.
“This feels great,” Robbins said. “The key was defense in the second quarter. Once we picked up our intensity, that changed the game. I think this came down to who wanted this more and we wanted the chance to play in the biggest game of the year.”
Against the best team in the state—bar none—Chester.
The Clippers are considered among the top five teams in the nation and haven’t lost in more than 50 games, carrying the nation’s second-longest winning streak.
As the final seconds were winding down Wednesday night, Lower Merion’s loyal fanbase, 10 busloads strong, began chanting, “We want Chester, we want Chester.”