Boys Basketball: Makin’ states ain’t easy, but somebody’s got to do it

Rondae Jefferson and Chester are back in the state tournament for the umpteenth year in a row. TIMES STAFF/ROBERT J. GURECKI

Rondae Jefferson and Chester are back in the state tournament for the umpteenth year in a row.
TIMES STAFF/ROBERT J. GURECKI

One didn’t have to work up too much of a sweat to get back to where it’s been so many times before. Another took the alternate route, squandering away a late lead before storming back in overtime to clinch its first spot in the state tournament since 2007-08. And finally, the other one also rallied and cemented its first berth in the tournament since 2006-07.

Regardless of how they got there, Chester, Ridley and Upper Darby will all be in the state tournament as part of the 10-team contingent from District One. Strath Haven, Penn Wood and Penncrest will have to earn a bid the hard way, by navigating back through the playback rounds, but there’s a chance at least one of them could join the club.

Everyone knows about Chester by now. The Clippers follow the same plan every night. Let reigning Daily Times Player of the Year Rondae Jefferson do his thing, get some big plays inside from Richard Granberry, have Darius Robinson hit a couple 3-pointers and spin the roulette wheel to see whose turn it is to step up that night. In an 85-44 dismantling of Strath Haven, it was Rashan DeJarnette at the forefront. The senior point guard scored 15 points, dished out a pair of assists and was all over the floor for Chester. Jefferson, who’s attained a status where he can record a triple-double and nobody says “boo” about it, was dominant with 16 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and four steals.

But one player who jumped out to me was senior forward Khalil Williams. After Granberry, the Clippers don’t have a ton of size in the frontcourt. Jefferson is 6-7, but he’s more adept at handling the ball and doing a little bit of everything than posting up in the low block and working exclusively out of the post. That’s where Williams comes in. Against the Panthers, he provided a jolt by coming off the bench and pairing eight points with five rebounds. Modest, yes, but the type of player that the Clippers will need as they work toward a third-straight PIAA Class AAAA title.

“A lot of open looks,” said Williams, who only needed five shots to get his eight points. “Working hard at practice. Coach (Larry Yarbray) always told me, ‘stay patient.’ (Granberry and Jefferson) taught me a lot of good moves. My face-up game got a lot better in the last year, my back to the basket got a lot better, they taught me a lot this year.”

That was evident against the Panthers and the more Williams can bring to the table, the more dangerous the Clippers become. Which, of course, is just what everyone else needs.

Chester will have its final home game of the year Friday night at 7, and while the Clippers were expected to be where they are, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone at the beginning of the year who would have picked Upper Darby to be at the same stage. But here are the Royals, eager for a shot at knocking off Chester from atop its perch of the Pennsylvania basketball world.

I’ve mentioned this several times before, but when James Fisher gets hot, he absolutely sizzles. Fisher canned three of his five 3-pointers in the second half and the Royals used an 18-5 run in the fourth quarter to knock off Harriton, 47-41. As has been the custom all season, Upper Darby came out slow, trailing 14-5 after a quarter, before hitting some shots down the stretch.

“It was a typical Upper Darby win,” Royals coach Bob Miller said. “It was one of those nights where we weren’t making anything and then all of a sudden Fisher gets hot and things just fell into place.”

There’s, oh, just a little bit of a difference between Harriton and Chester, and if the Royals want any kind of a shot at upsetting the Clippers, they’ll need to make pretty much every shot. Seems reasonable, right?

The pick: Chester

Look at you doing your thing, Cardiac Kids

Speaking of unheralded teams in the preseason, how about Ridley? Let’s make a trip back to the archives and take a look at what the season preview had in store for the Green Raiders.

“Ridley is a team that will need its newcomers to grow up fast, as Mike Snyder only welcomes back two players who saw time last year in power forward Jon McGill and combo guard Kenny Bartow.

“Jon really developed his game in the offseason,” Snyder said. “But we don’t have a lot of experience coming back.”

Those two have been the bellcows all year and in a 64-61 overtime upset of No. 4 Norristown, it was Bartow who shined brightest. He had 21 points, including a clutch 3-pointer to kick off the overtime period, to help knock off the Eagles.

Like a lot of teams, Ridley’s sum of the parts is greater than the parts themselves. When everyone does their job, the Green Raiders are extremely tough to beat. Plus, they’ve shown that they can win close games, a must in a tournament like this. At this point, picking against Ridley seems a little bit silly, even with a tough opponent like No. 5 Abington, which easily handled Penn Wood.

The pick: Ridley.

Playing with fire and living on the edge

There’s another Delco trio of teams still alive in the AAAA bracket, but this one finds itself on the wrong side of the bracket. It’s officially win or you’re done time for Penncrest, Penn Wood and Strath Haven and two of the three, at least by seeds, are heavy underdogs to move on to the next round.

No. 12 Penn Wood got down early and never recovered against Abington in a 66-52 loss to the Ghosts. As mentioned before, the Patriots are a young team outside of seniors Tyree Bynum and Secean Johnson, both of whom were quiet against Abington. Gemil Holbrook had a big game, posting 21 points, and coach Clyde Jones will need him and the rest of a talented sophomore class to come up big at No. 4 Norristown at 7 Friday. How big would it be for the Patriots to make it to states with such a young nucleus?

“Getting to states would be special for this group,” Jones told Chris Vito. “It would be special, because no one can tell you we expected to be in states this year, especially after not having certain pieces of the team. But with this group, if they make it to states, it would raise their level – especially the young kids – raise their level of confidence, and give them the experience of really having to go and fight for something. Our young kids are waiting for things to be delivered, and a lot of our team members wait for things to be handed to them. If we can go out and take this game against Norristown, and take these games, our kids would really benefit from it and the community would. But it would be special to make it. We’ve got an uphill battle.”

The pick: Norristown

Strath Haven would have to like its chances strictly based off of seeds, but it’s an all-too-familiar foe for the Panthers in No. 25 Harriton. The Rams beat Haven soundly in the regular season, a 56-42 win that snapped a six-game Panthers win streak. Haven will host Friday night’s game at 7. There’s additional pressure with every game now, but to Haven’s John Fender, that’s a good thing.

“It’s actually fun. It’s awesome,” Fender said. “We all take practices so much more seriously. I think (the loss to Chester) makes us play a lot better.”

The pick: Strath Haven

As is the custom for Penncrest, the Lions had to run into Lower Merion. Coach Mike Doyle alluded to the fact that Penncrest always seems to get the Aces way back at the beginning of the season, a prophetic statement considering what went down Tuesday. Penncrest hung tough for a quarter before falling, 75-42, to the Central League champions. The Lions get a manageable game in a road trip to No. 7 Hatboro-Horsham. Point guard Eddie Baxter has been top notch in both district games, as he’s scored 19 and 14 points, respectively,  but he needs some help. The much-touted frontcourt of Rahmi HalabyKalvin Simpson and Ben Casanova only mustered a combined 16 points against Lower Merion. That total needs to rise significantly if the Lions want to stick around.

The pick: Hatboro-Horsham

– MATT CHANDIK

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