By Joseph Santoliquito
STATE COLLEGE (CBS)—There’s been a just-below-the-surface unwieldiness about Chester this year. It may seem hard to believe a perennial power like the Clippers, who have received a healthy dose of national acclaim this basketball season, would be lugging anything around with them.
But they have.
Chester has been uneasy because it wasn’t right. Nothing would be right until the Clippers finished the season the way they intended—with a big ‘0’ in the loss column and their eighth PIAA Class AAAA state championship in tow. That’s the kind of pressure the Clippers put on themselves. What’s more is that this traditional area power played the 2012 season haunted by history, a cranky murmur that cried nothing is complete pending the ultimate goal.
No Chester team ever finished a season undefeated. No Chester team ever won two-straight state championships.
Chester concluded a season for the ages with a resounding 59-33 victory over another area power, Lower Merion, Kobe Bryant’s alma mater, Saturday night at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center to end the year 32-0 and for the first time in Chester’s storied past winners of consecutive state titles.
It’s the first time a Class AAAA team won back-to-back Pennsylvania state titles since Glen Mills won in 1990 and again in 1991. The 26-point difference in a Class AAAA championship games ties the largest winning margin in a title game since Carlisle beat Pittsburgh Central Catholic in 1988. Another nugget of Chester’s dominance is the 33 points yielded is the second-fewest points surrendered in a state Class AAAA final since Hazleton scored 30 in the 1993 Class AAAA finals against Erie Cathedral Prep.
The Clippers extended their winning streak to 58 games, the second-longest streak in the country. Chester’s victory concluded a huge state championship weekend for Philadelphia-area teams, which swept the boys’ tournament (Constitution won Class A, Imhotep Charter in Class AA, Neumann-Goretti at Class AAA and Chester in Class AAAA). Of the eight games played over the weekend, there were seven Philadelphia-area (Archbishop Carroll won in Class AAAA and Archbishop Wood in Class AAA girls) teams that went 6-1, with the one loss being Lower Merion to its District 1 rival Chester.
For the Clippers, who are ranked No. 5 in the country by CBS/MaxPreps, the state title marked an all-time state high eighth crown (1983, 1989, 1994, 2000 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2012).
But none more impressive—nor more resonating than this most recent championship. Chester has had some incredible teams in its history. None have gone undefeated. None have ever won two-straight state titles.
Rondae Jefferson led the way for the Clippers with 13 points, followed by Darius Robinson’s 9 points and Erikk Wright, Shanier Cottman and Richard Granberry each with 7 points.
Chester’s swarming, stifling defense was the difference. The Clippers caused Lower Merion to go 15:39 without scoring a basket—from late in the first quarter until nearly midway into the third quarter. Every Aces’ possession was greeted with a phalanx of arms and legs, a maze Lower Merion had trouble penetrating.
Chester opened a 22-16 halftime lead, courtesy of some suffocating, stellar defense. The Clippers were a horrid 3-of-16 shooting from the floor in the first quarter, but their defense changed the sway of the game back in the second quarter. Chester caused 16 turnovers—eight in each of the first two quarters.
The Aces couldn’t even get a shot off, going 0-for-7 in the second quarter while Chester surged out to an 11-0 run to begin the second quarter. Lower Merion went from a confident team in the first quarter to appearing pressed and indecisive in the second, making bad decisions caused by the Chester pressure.
After the Aces’ JaQuan Johnson’s driving layup gave Lower Merion a 11-6 lead, its largest edge, the Aces went cold. Lower Merion went the next 6:57 scoreless, and had gone 10:35 without scoring a basket. Five free throws were the only scoring Lower Merion could muster in the second frame.
Chester’s 11-0 second quarter bolt transformed a 11-9 deficit into a 20-11 lead. From there, Lower Merion closed to within seven points once, 32-25, midway into the third quarter. Otherwise, Chester’s heat made the game a route. And gave the 2012 Clippers a piece of history they can claim all their own.