Fourth Quarter Lull Proves Costly As Devon Prep Surges Past Columbia, Reaches Quarterfinal Round Of PIAA-3A Tournament As Crimson Tide ‘Goes Down Swinging’

Written by: on Monday, March 14th, 2022

 

 

Photo Cisco Soto

Remember the year 2020? Yeah, I know we all do in our own unique ways. Remember March 2020 more specifically? Certainly, right? After all, that’s right when everyone’s collective world turned completely upside down around the globe. Of course, if you’re more so of the PIAA boys’ basketball crowd specifically, you will probably remember that fateful month for perhaps one reason above all others. That being that only the first weekend of games was contested in full before the plug was pulled unanimously across all classification levels to shut the event down for good, voiding everyone of knowing for certain just who would have wound up as the eventual state champion in both the girls’ and boys’ ranks respectively in all six classes that the PIAA has to offer. Then again, some teams had their seasons’ end 24 months ago now for certain, even before the state’s governing scholastic sports body had the chance to do so for everyone else still left alive and kicking inside their respective bracket. One of those squads sharing in that distinction, the Columbia Crimson Tide.

In many ways, it’d be hard to find fault with the Tide and their ardent backers if they didn’t feel as if their team’s game against School of the Future that was held on a quiet and unassuming Saturday afternoon inside the walls of South Philadelphia High School didn’t feel akin to that of an opportunity lost. After all, while the atmosphere inside the gym was, shall we say, less than feverish to say the least, the Crimson Tide seemed to be playing just a step slow, never quite establishing themselves into their true and consistent rhythm over the entirety of the contest as the Tide were eventually bounced that day by way of the Firebirds in a 71-46 final decision.

To be frank though, the game held that day still no doubt lingers for everyone still residing in the Crimson Tide camp. And shoot, how could it not considering that most of the same guys getting minutes on this particular edition of Columbia’s squad were also found playing that day two years ago against School of the Future in the opening round of the state playoffs. Sure enough, as you’d likely come to expect from a team that epitomizes and oozes with the very fiber of the town they happen call home to the upmost degree, Columbia just decided to work. Then work. Then work again. Then work and grind some more just for good measure in the days, weeks, months, and years that eventually followed.

Suffice to say, the strain seemed to pay off. Aside from the fact that Columbia made it three consecutive Section Five titles at the end of the regular season this year, the last two of which came by way of clean sweeps over the competition that quite frankly doesn’t get talked about or respected enough considering that other District 3 power players Lancaster Mennonite and Lancaster Country Day also happen to call that particular division their home, the Tide advanced to last year’s District 3-3A title game before bowing out to Lancaster Catholic on the Crusaders’ home floor given the additional pandemic-induced flukiness that carried over from the season prior over. Unfortunately, that added zaniness also meant that champions-only would get the nod into the state field, effectively having the Tide’s season conclude right then and there inside their rival’s house following a bitterly-painful four-overtime loss to the same Lancaster Catholic outfit in the opening round of the L-L League playoffs just a few days prior as well.

However, if “normal” being the name of the game and everything that happens to come with was the prevailing theme for the 2021-22 season, Columbia was largely figured to be one of the better squads that the L-L would able to boast about. Spoiler alert, but they wouldn’t do too bad in terms of living up to that moniker.

Yep, aside from getting the brooms out of the janitor’s closet to signify another sweep over divisional competition this season, the Crimson Tide made good on making amends for falling short in last year’s District 3 title game as Columbia was able to exercise their demons against another parochial school, York Catholic, last Saturday up at Giant Center for a victory which marked the Tide’s first ascension to the summit of District 3 boys’ basketball since 1994 incredibly which almost feels like a bit of a misprint doesn’t it?

So, what all of that meant was that a return trip to the state playoffs this season would be in the cards for Columbia with the program’s first appearance in the state tourney field since that fateful and aforementioned School of the Future game from 2020. Needless to say, the Tide would be able to vanquish those skeletons as well given their emphatic and commanding 76-47 triumph over Freire Charter in the opening round this past Wednesday night, vaulting the Tide into the second round of states for the first time since the 2014-15 campaign. That said, building to this moment seemed to be a prevailing theme for their second-round opponent on Sunday evening at Spring-Ford High School as well, Devon Prep.

Speaking of wonkiness, how does this happen to work out? The Crimson Tide versus the Tide. Ironically enough though, aside from the two schools sharing a nickname with one another, it seemed as if this would be a matchup between two sides that were staring back in the mirror at one another. For Devon Prep, hailing from the prestigious Philadelphia Catholic League that certainly needs to be referenced somewhere, the Tide’s first round victory over Dock Mennonite -also held on Wednesday night- successfully capped off the program’s first appearance in the state playoff field in a decade. Granted, it probably shouldn’t have served as much of a surprise given that the same Devon Prep squad was able to saunter into arguably one of the state’s toughest places to play, Reading High’s Geigle Complex, before authoring an eyebrow-raising performance as the Tide were able to knock off the defending 6A state champs on their home to take home the spoils of Reading High’s holiday tournament back in December.

That said, if both teams felt as if they were peering down the sidelines and looking at a direct replica of themselves on Sunday in Royersford, the team that would blink last figured to emerge victorious. As it turned out, it would be Devon Prep who would possess the eagle-eye on this day.

To say that both sides came out of the blocks firing on Sunday would be a bit of a disservice. Sure, while Kerry “Hov” Glover proceeded to tally the Crimson Tide’s first five points of the afternoon, Devon Prep’s transition game proved to be lethal. Simply put, if the Tide weren’t getting up and down the floor and scoring at the tin quicker than a hiccup, their persistent early offense helped pave the way for trifectas to poured down in the early stages of the possession, something best encapsulated with a pair of Allen Cieslak treys which helped usher Devon Prep out to the 9-5 advantage roughly 1:20 into the contest.

However, even when Columbia seemed to gather its footing, Devon Prep was right there to knock them right back off their heels.

Case in point, while Columbia’s J’Von Collazo would come down the floor and pump in a 3-ball to close the Crimson Tide’s deficit down to four at 16-12, a back-breaking four-point play answered on Devon Prep’s ensuing offensive trip by way of junior forward, Jacen Holloway, upped the white-clad Tide’s cushion to a 20-12 count with 3:05 still left to play in the opening frame.  In fact, DP’s lead would swell up to double figures at 22-12 following a nice cut to the tin by junior wing, Luke Orchard, before the Tide from Devon would trot into the second stanza with their lead standing at 24-15 following a wildly entertaining eight minutes of a transition-filled basketball display.

Yet while Columbia may have appeared be caught off guard somewhat given the pace of play that it quickly became evident that Devon Prep wanted to employ against them, Columbia was able to settle down into a flow and quickly turned the game on its head inside the second batch of eight minutes.

Speaking of transition, Columbia was able to find its familiar mojo in that regard in the early portion of the second stanza once a Jordan Poole to Brelon Miller bucket punctuated a Crimson Tide fast break as the sophomore duo got the school from the western edge of Lancaster County back within a touchdown at 25-18 with 6:40 still left to tick off the second quarter clock.  From there, the Columbia senior class decided to partake in the rally. For that, look to 6’0 senior guard, Robert Footman, to have those honors bestowed upon him as the multi-sport start was able to sink one of his trademark pullup jumpers in the lane to slice the Devon Prep lead down to the slimmest of margins, 25-24, before Footman’s old fashioned three-point play the very next time down the floor put Columbia out in front at 27-25 just 30 seconds later.

Needless to say, the Crimson Tide was clearly rolling downhill at their opposition at this point. So much so in fact that frustration appeared to boil over as far as Devon Prep was concerned as the Tide was then hit with an unfortunate and certainly untimely dead-ball technical foul inside the final minute of the frame, an exchange in which Hov Glover proceeded to tally seven straight points inside those final 41 seconds of the opening half –four of which came via the charity stripe while the last came complete with a banked-in trey moments before the second quarter horn sounded – as Columbia was able to roar into the halftime recess following a remarkable second quarter turnaround which saw them currently owning the 38-28 advantage coming out of the initial 16 minutes of play.

Speaking of the art of hitting 3’s, that was certainly on display as far as the third frame was concerned on Sunday.

More specifically, that became evident right from the jump seeing as how Devon Prep sophomore wing, Ben Costello, was able to pump in a triple of his own before a Hov Glover answer from beyond the arc would follow suit shortly thereafter, a key bucket which allowed the Crimson Tide to stay out in front by a 10-point count, 43-33, with 5:45 still left to go in the third. On the day, Glover was sight to behold in terms of trying to power his team onward to victory, especially seeing as how the Columbia 1,000-point career scorer was able to pump in a game-high 30-point effort in this one as well.

But from that moment on inside third, the Crimson Tide appeared to be have no answer whatsoever for what Lucas Orchard happened to be lobbing at them.

Granted, with his team still staring down the barrel of that same 10-point difference not that much later in the stanza, the Devon Prep 6’4 junior began to retaliate with a vengeance. And while it may have started off rather inconspicuously with what seemed to be a run-of-the-mill triple given that litany of long-range bombs that had been flying around by that point, a pair of Orchard treys suddenly got the Tide back within shouting distance at 45-41 with just inside of five minutes still left to go in the third. And if he wasn’t lighting Columbia up from bonus distance, Orchard had no qualms with taking his game inside the stripe either as his put-back bunny at the cup trimmed the once-sizable Crimson Tide buffer down to a modest two-points at 45-43 as the impromptu Orchard-led flurry capped off his personal 8-0 charge to aid in the collective Devon Prep cause. And while Orchard may have been the one inflicting the greatest amount of damage upon Columbia at that point in time, a pair of coolly-sunk free throws at the foul line courtesy of Argel Pettit inside the final 35 seconds of the third quarter helped complete Devon Prep’s equally-remarkable third quarter about-face as the Tide now led the Crimson Tide, 50-49, heading into the game’s final eight minutes.

Speaking of Pettit, he too remained white-hot heading into the fourth as well.

So much so in fact that the senior guard’s pair of crucial 3-balls that came in successive fashion for Devon Prep helped the Tide claim the 56-51 advantage with 6:40 left to play in the contest. And if you’re wondering, well, Pettit would indeed be the one to capture team-high scoring honors on this day for Devon Prep as Pettit helped pace his club with a fantastic and well-rounded 29-point effort.

Yet in keeping with that same theme of Devon Prep seeming to have the answer at nearly every Columbia rebuke, it’s easy to point to another Tide triple, this one sunk by Allen Cieslak, a bucket which helped the DP lead stand firm at five, 61-56, with 3:40 roughly still to go.

Unfortunately, as far as the Columbia folks were concerned, that sound which they heard would be their window of opportunity effectively being closed shut behind them from that point onward.

Cruelly beset by a handful of empty trips at the most inopportune of times which came following either turnovers or missed shots coming down the final stretch, Devon Prep began to pour salt into the Crimson Tide’s open wound and open their existing lead up even further. In fact, while a J’Von Collazo bucket which cut the gap down to a 65-60 count would prove to be vital for Columbia’s chances with just 1:27 left to go, Devon Prep’s foul shooting down the final furlong proved to largely be the difference. For that, it’d be easy to reference and cite a perfect 4-4 bout of late-game nerves at the foul line in particular by way of Argel Pettit that helped propel Devon Prep out to the commanding 72-62 lead inside of the final minute and change.

And while a pair of Brelon Miller and Robert Footman triples would help Columbia get within a final few points, it would prove to be too little, too late as Devon Prep found themselves back inside the state quarterfinal round of the PIAA bracket for the first time 2005 by evening’s end after successfully staving off a very resilient and hard-charging Crimson Tide bunch that so clearly left everything they had out on Spring-Ford’s floor following the 76-73 final verdict.

Afterwards, as one may have suspected, the postgame message offered to his group inside the confines of its locker room following its final game of the season from Columbia head coach Kerry Glover was one that was indeed rather long in terms of its duration given the memorable ride and bridge to the future that this 2021-22 squad had established for the program at-large.

“I just told those guys in the locker room that this year was my best group that I’ve had outside of my first year,” the sixth-year Crimson Tide head man said while scores of his troops solemnly walked past before embarking on their final bus ride home of the year. “Part of that might be a little biased being my first year as a coach, but in six years, this one was fun, especially with my young guys. I told (his underclassmen) before the season, ‘I know what I’m going to get out of my three senior guards (J’Von Collazo, Robert Footman, and Kerry Glover), but no one else knows a thing about any one of you guys. Honestly, I need to be sure of what you all can bring to the table.’ Seeing Artie Poindexter, Brelon Miller, Domo (Dominic Diaz-Ellis), seeing those guys grow over the course of the year and being able to help out the three seniors, for me, that was the biggest thing all year was those guys,” he remarked of his surging and oncoming cast. “I told them, ‘There’s 14-year-old kids at home right now playing video games or still playing junior high basketball. Like, you’re 14 and you’re playing consistently and contributing to a district-championship team. That says a lot about you.’”

 And speaking of “talking” in general, you can best believe that Columbia heard the noise outside their locker room walls this season and used that as fuel in their tanks to help drive them.

“I also think a big thing was that we were able to shake that stigma of, ‘We’re only Section Five good.’ I hate that. I hate that with a passion,” Glover went on to say. “We played Executive Education down to one possession with a minute left, Devon Prep to one possession here and there, I just told (his team), ‘You guys proved that you’re better than just Section Five good. You can play with anybody.’”

“There’s no excuse not to return better,” he added while divulging more of the postgame message just uttered. “I don’t care where you’re playing AAU at, I don’t care what you’re doing in the offseason, you guys had the opportunity to play with three of the best guards that have come through Columbia in a long time and three of the better guards in central PA by going against them every freaking day in practice. You should want to return better and want to fill that void.”

Speaking of voids though, if there was any sort of solace that could perhaps be taken from this contest in particular, it was largely the undeniable fact that Columbia had given it all they had during in this state tournament run by leaving no stone left stone unturned, a feat primarily spearheaded by this year’s senior class most specifically.

“The attitude, the approach. It was just different,” Glover highlighted of his now-departing group. “Just being real, I know he gets a lot of flak because he’s my son, but that kid is a leader. He’s a leader, man,” the elder Glover said of his next of kin who shares his same name. “This group as a whole was just different. I’ve had my son, J’Von, Ant Footman, since 3rd or 4th grade. This was damn near a decade of coaching these guys with AAU and stuff. This group here just had so much more resolve, so much more feel and love for the game. These guys were the ones that played basketball outside of the school season,” their high school coach added with pride. “Because of this group’s senior leadership, there’s nothing that my underclassmen should see in a game and be nervous about or afraid of by going against those guys in practice.”

“We talked about it before, but we really thought last year was going to be ‘the’ year,” he stated. “Then we lose a kid like Luis Cruz who moves away, we lose Davion (Edmond-Greene) after his freshman year when he goes to Hempfield, we lose J’Von after he goes to La Academia, like there’s no doubt in my mind that if those guys would have gotten one or two years of seasoning at the varsity level, we had two years there where we should have been district champions and made a run in states. But you know, things happen. Obviously COVID messed some things up to where we didn’t win districts so we couldn’t make a run in states last year, but even last year I think we could’ve made a really good run in states as we had we had some more size and things like that.”

“There’s no reason for anyone to hang their heads. They went out swinging,” Glover remarked in closing. “No matter what, I don’t give a damn who we’re playing, you make sure when you step off that court that your opponent respects you. You do that, whether you win, and you win with some class and some grace, or you lose, you go down fighting to make sure they respect you for that. I think they did that.”

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