“They were tougher than us. They had a lot more desire. We were still playing like it was last game.”
That’s the message (albeit a summarized version) that first year head coach Clyde Jones delivered to his Girard College players as they trailed 31-30 at the break. They had been outrebounded and outworked in the paint.
Girard got out to a slow start, prompting a timeout less than a minute into the game, but was able to bounce back and keep a tough Faith Christian team at bay in the first quarter. The second quarter, however, resulted in a total reversal of fortunes and the Lions came roaring back to take 31-30 lead into half.
Most of that can be attributed to forwards Zeke Snowden and Sawyer Smith who would carry the load to get Faith Christian back on top. Snowden nearly had a double-double in the first half alone with 10 points and 8 rebounds.
However, the game turned around with 6:10 left in the third quarter. The Cavaliers’ 6’8 Freshman (who was inexplicably listed as a guard on the rosters) Mikeal Jones got the ball near the hoop and looked to the rim. With one swift motion, he got up and slammed the ball with authority to give Girard College the 34-33 lead.
While Faith Christian would continue to battle and ultimately end up with the lead at the end of the third quarter, the energy seemed to have shifted. Girard College was rebounding better, they were more aggressive on defense, and they were starting to get open looks. It became a matter of them converting.
Guard Daiquan Copeland opened up the fourth by knocking down two free throws, something he did we ease en route to 22 points and 9 for 10 shooting from the line. Over the next five minutes, the Cavaliers would go on a 19-6 run that featured a Jones’ dunk, Copeland and Smith getting to the basket, and stingy on-ball defense from 5’3 freshman guard Aquil Stewart.
No shortage of praise from Coach Jones, who said “He (Stewart) came in and defended his tail off. He really harassed the ballhandlers, I’m proud of him and the way he impacted the game” when asked about Stewart’s role coming off the bench for the Cavaliers.
The run put them up 59-51 and they never looked back. Free throws and the ceremonial dribbling out of the game ensued and the Cavaliers got a chance to celebrate their incredible accomplishments.
For Coach Jones, he is about to make a trip that few coaches do in their first year, to Hershey to play for the ultimate prize. He was quick to deflect the attention to the “tremendous talent” and “hard workers” he had been given to coach. He just wanted to bring a “Girard College feel” to the team this season and saw this group’s potential to go very far from the very beginning.
As for Faith Christian, they come up one game shy of the state championship and finish the season 27-5. Nothing to hang their heads about, as they were able to hang around with Girard College who beat them badly in the District 1 Class A Championship game. They will graduate quite a few key seniors, but figure to remain in the mix with Sawyer Smith and Derian Bradford expected to see bigger roles next year as they showed so much promise this season.
Now the focus turns to Thursday when Girard College will take on Kennedy Catholic at the GIANT Center in Hershey for the PIAA Class A State Title. What’s motivating Mikeal Jones and his teammates for that game?
“We all just want that chocolate.”
And hopefully a championship on the side.
(Photo Credit: Jack Kapp)