By: Jeremy Park
The Central League boys basketball playoffs kicked off with what may be remembered as the greatest game in league history. The Garnet Valley Jaguars made the trip to Berwyn for their third matchup against the Conestoga Pioneers this season, having just played them at home two days prior. Both teams’ student sections showed up ready to chant, cheer, and insult ugly sweaters, creating a loud, offensive, and electric atmosphere.
The two games prior to Thursday’s playoff matchup set it up perfectly. Conestoga took the first game with an overtime win at home and the Jags edged out a regulation win on Tuesday. The Pioneers may have been looking for revenge from Tuesday’s game, but last year’s Central League Championship also featured these two teams, a game that the Jags celebrated winning on Conestoga’s home court. It was back to that same court for a rematch, where an electric environment, an incredible shot, and two overtimes created a game to remember.
The first quarter belonged solely to the Jags, with a 9-0 shutout to start the game. The Pioneers quickly got themselves back into it, ending the first half to bring it to 13-8, GV leading. Minimal scoring was the story of the entire game, with the third quarter ending 20-13, GV, but the fourth quarter ended Hollywood-style.
6’10″ Conestoga center and Richmond-commit Michael Walz threw down a two-handed slam, but a technical foul that was called immediately after sent GV’s Ryan Wootten to the free throw line. The Pioneer Pit student section racked up quite a few decibels, but Wootten swished both shots. Walz scored again, bringing it to a 2-point game, and a three-pointer gave them their first lead of the game with a minute left in regulation. The clock winded down to 2.9 seconds and the Pioneers got a trip to the line with a 25-24 lead. Both free throws went through the net, and it seemed all but over for the Jags. Max Koehler thought differently. With the entire court’s distance to go, the junior point guard first received the inbound pass at midcourt, weaved through a defender, and pulled up a prayer from several feet beyond the line. Swish. Overtime.
A completely scoreless first overtime sent it to a 6th period, where scores from all around the court brought the game to a close. Two Walz free throws, a Wootten three-ball, and a Conestoga steal-turned-layup made the score 31-30 with just over a minute left to go. The final minute saw the score tied up at 33, and with a foul called on Garnet Valley with 2.7 seconds left, Conestoga had the opportunity to take the game. The first free throw dropped in, and as the second attempt bounced out, a last-second half-court attempt from Koehler fell short as the clock hit zero.
In three total games against each other this season, Garnet Valley vs Conestoga has come down to the final seconds every single time. The total point differential? A whopping 1 point. This particular matchup could literally have not been any closer.
With the win, Conestoga advances to the Central League semi-final round against number one seeded Lower Merion. Garnet Valley has been eliminated from the Central League Playoffs, but will play in the District One Tournament against an opponent yet to be determined.