The Comeback Kids: The Story of Garnet Valley’s Incredible District Playoff Run

By: Ryan Croke

Pictured: Senior Ryan Wooten shoots a three-point shot over a Ridley defender in a regular season matchup in Garnet Valley on December 14, 2021. (photo courtesy of Jeremy Park / @picsbyjpeg on Instagram)

Thanks to some incredible upsets and impressive comebacks, the last few weeks have been quite memorable for the Garnet Valley boys’ basketball team. 

The Jaguars have rounded into form as of late, with the current tear that they are on having originated weeks prior, at the conclusion of their regular season. At the beginning of February, they were on the cusp of making it into the District I playoffs but would need to defeat some difficult opponents and hope that other results around the district fell their way. Things looked grim for the boys’ season, and it was expected that they would fall just short. But if there’s anything we have learned about this boys’ team in recent games, it’s that they are at their best when their backs are against the wall. They made a contest with a two-seeded Lower Merion squad incredibly close, narrowly losing 47-44, but the performance foreshadowed what was to follow. 

Garnet Valley had two other top ten-seeded teams on the docket to end the year in Haverford and Conestoga, both of whom they defeated in thrilling matchups. They had done what they needed to in order to have a shot, and when the cards fell their way in the results of other matchups, they were officially in the District I playoffs as the lowest seed. 

“I knew this team was fighting to get that last spot, and I knew chances were slim, but I knew this team was not going to go down without a fight, and they didn’t go down without a fight,” broadcaster and honorary team photographer Jeremy Park said. “I always believed in this team, I think every single one of the players is capable of making one another better, and that’s what they did.”

They had done what seemed to be impossible thanks to their own hard work, even if they had some luck with other District I results benefiting them. Taking two top ten seeds down in short succession along with almost upsetting the number two-seed is no minor accomplishment, and the Jaguars’ efforts were rewarded. 

“I think we’ve learned to play as a team better and I think our chemistry has improved a lot throughout the season,” starting forward Ryan Faccenda said. “Going into the final three games of the season we knew we needed to win at least one of the three to make the central league playoffs and win two of them to qualify for districts. We started playing our best team basketball and got some momentum going towards the end of the regular season which helped us beat Haverford and Conestoga to get into districts.”

The Jaguars have certainly seemed more cohesive, and this has undoubtedly been a factor in their recent success. The entire team has raised their performance level, and they have shocked plenty of teams because of it. 

“I think collectively as a team down the stretch we’ve all stepped up in different ways,” Faccenda added. “Whether it’s scoring, hitting foul shots, being a leader, or doing the little things right, everyone has stepped up in different ways. The collective effort has helped us succeed and make each other better over the past month or two.”

Ending the season on a high note, they entered the District I playoffs as the 24 seed, the lowest available. The regular season had ended on a high note, but a first-round exit in the Central League playoffs at the hands of Conestoga seemed to be the end of the Cinderella story. It was only the beginning. The Jaguars would come back from down 18 in Upper Dublin to knock off the Cardinals thanks to a last-second Logan McKee putback, earning a ticket to play the Spring-Ford Rams in the next round. 

“A key thing about our team is that we don’t panic. Energy-wise, it lights a little fire under us,” Faccenda said. “But, whether we’re down 8 or 18, we keep our cool and try to get back in the game one basket at a time. We know we can’t get all the points back at once so we don’t rush but we also know we need to pick it up.”

The game against Spring-Ford was another incredible showdown. The Rams bolted out to a big lead, looking like the better team for most of the game. Facing a 15 point deficit in the third quarter, and with Spring-Ford not showing any signs of slowing down, the Jaguars’ chances looked to be slim, and a repeat of history seemed to be unreachable. But they did the unthinkable, as juniors Logan McKee and Max Koehler led Garnet Valley to a fourth-quarter comeback and a 53-50 win on the road.

“This team definitely stays very well composed, even if they’re down 16-18 points, but they’re dogs,” Park said. “Hungry dogs run faster, that’s what they say, and this team, I mean, they fight on every single possession no matter the score, and that’s what I love about this team.”

The Jaguars certainly had found a way to stay composed, not giving up even in the face of almost certain defeat. Within the last few weeks, they have taken down two top ten seeded teams as a 24 seed in the district playoffs, along with knocking off two other top ten seeds in Haverford and Conestoga and also took the two seed down to the wire. They refuse to quit, which is why they made it to the district playoffs, and also why they experienced success there. 

“I think we have confidence in each other to make shots and make the right plays to help us get back in the game,” Faccenda said. “When we get down big we don’t panic because we know how capable we are to get back into the game and put ourselves in a position to win.”

The Jaguars’ incredible run in the district playoffs would be cut short by the 6’8 Division I prospect Cole Hargrove and the Methacton Warriors, but not without a fight, as the Jaguars, the last seeded team, had the lead over the one seed for most of the game. The game went to overtime and was a nail-biter from start to finish. The district playoff run for the boys has been nothing short of remarkable, and their refusal to quit in the face of adversity is inspiring to witness.

“As of late during playoffs, we’ve been approaching every game like it’s our last one,” Faccenda added. “I think it lights a fire under us and gives us motivation to put the work in to succeed and play hard.”

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