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ERDENHEIM – Talk about a dramatic change of fortunes.
This was it.
Upper Merion and Springfield were locked in a dogfight heading into the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s American Conference battle, and the Vikings took a tenuous 30-28 lead in the final frame.
Eight minutes later, they walked off the court with a no-doubt-about-it 52-35 win that left the Spartans reeling.
What exactly happened?
“Our team came together as one,” Upper Merion’s Tim Gallagher said. “In other games, we’re not used to doing that. We came together, we pushed the ball up the court, and we outhustled them.
“That’s basically what it was, and we didn’t do that in the first three quarters.”
Coach Jonathan Groom is hoping his team can replicate its 22-7 fourth-quarter scoring explosion for four quarters in upcoming games.
“Nobody tried to do too much,” he said. “Guys played within themselves, and they played with a little bit of poise and confidence.
“Pretty much it’s been a struggle getting our guys to learn the right way to play – coming out and playing with the same aggression we play with in the fourth quarter. That’s been our MO all season – we come out slow, and then in the fourth quarter, we make a mad rush at the end. Sometimes it’s worked out for us, sometimes it hasn’t.”
Sophomore Dexter Bridge scored a game-high 16 points to lead the Vikings while Jared Brown added 13 points and eight rebounds. Gallagher had nine points and five boards, Fran Rafferty had a game-high 10 rebounds to go along with six points, and Paul Kubler had seven rebounds, six points and two blocked shots as the Vikings dominated the paint.
The Spartans were led by the 11-point efforts of Malcolm Hill and Kyron Green. Green connected for three treys, but it was the shots the Spartans didn’t make – easy layups in the paint – that ultimately led to their demise.
They took a 13-9 lead in the closing seconds of the first quarter after a basket by Hill, but then came a five-minute scoring drought that included one miss in close after another.
“That’s the story of our life,” Spartan coach Jack Spinella said. “We have a very inexperienced team. We only have a few guys that played a little bit of varsity last year, so I guess they’re still getting over the jitters.
“They should be over it after 10 games, but I figure it’s still culture shock – the game is much faster at the varsity level than the jayvee level.”
While the Spartans were struggling, the Vikings weren’t exactly setting the world on fire, but they took a 14-13 lead after Pat Belford converted a bucket at the end of a fast break.
Christian Ross buried a pair from the foul line to put the Spartans back on top, but Bridge – who accounted for all nine of his team’s first-quarter points and had 13 first-half points – drove through the Spartans’ defense for a bucket that gave the Vikings a 16-15 edge.
The missed easy shots, according to Spinella, took their toll on the defensive end as well.
“They go down to the other end and they ‘re worrying about it and feeling sorry for themselves, and their head isn’t in it,” he said. “It’s very hard to continuously get a pretty good shot and blow it and go to the other end and shut the other team down.”
After a Spartan turnover, Bridge scored off the dribble, but Springfield’s Rich Acierno connected to make it an 18-17 game at the intermission.
In the third quarter, Upper Merion – sparked by Brown’s nine points –edged the Spartans 12-11, setting the stage for a fourth quarter the Vikings owned.
Kubler scored a pair of baskets in a 10-4 Viking run to open the frame – a run that culminated with a pair of easy buckets. The first came when Bridge found Gallagher with a no-look pass, and then – after a Spartan turnover, Gallagher hit Rafferty cutting to the hoop for a bucket that put the Vikings on top 40-31.
“Coach puts defense before offense,” Gallagher said. “If our defense plays the way it can play, our offense will come together with it. If we hustle on defense, we’ll get good shots on the defense, we’ll control the tempo of the game, and it’s our game.”
The Spartans would get no closer than seven the rest of the way as the Vikings rolled to the important win.
“Basically, the way our division is – this is pretty big because now we’re right in the middle of the pack with the other teams,” Gallagher said. “Plymouth Whitemarsh and Norristown are at the top, but it’s anyone’s game for third place.”
“Our coach broke our schedule down early in the season into four-game stretches,” Rafferty said. “Coming into the Christmas break, we really wanted to buckle down and get a couple of wins in the Christmas Tournament.
“We were shaky in our first game, but we came out and won our second game. Now we won our second in a row, and we’re hoping it carries us on and hope we have a good second half.”
While the Spartans fell to 1-9, the Vikings improved to 2-2 in league play (3-8 overall). They host Wissahickon on Friday night.
“Hopefully it will carry into our game tomorrow as long as we remember what we were doing to end the game – taking the ball strong, getting open shots and making foul shots,” Rafferty said.
“This is a confidence builder,” Groom said. “Wissahickon is a team that pretty much has had our number since I have been here.
“They’re one of the best-coached teams in the area.”
UPPER MERION 52, SPRINGFIELD 35
Upper Merion (52) – Fran Rafferty 2 2-3 6, Tim Gallagher 3 2-6 9, Dexter Bridge 6 3-3 16, Jared Brown 5 3-3 13, Breohn Anderson 0 0-0 0, Pat Belford 1 0-0 2, Paul Kubler 3 0-0 6, Ryan McGee 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 10-15 52.
Springfield (35) – Brion Brown 1 0-0 3, Malcolm Hill 4 2-2 1, Kyron Greene 4 0-2 11, Rich Acierno 1 0-2 2, Chris Crudele 0 1-2 1, Brett Greenberg 1 2-2 5, Nick Barraclough 0 0-0 0, Christian Ross 0 2-2 2, Ryan Lightcap 0 0-0 0, Kevin McBride 0 0-0 0, Zach Perry 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 7-12 35.
Upper Merion 9 9 12 22-52
Springfield 13 4 11 7-35
Three-point goals: Dexter Bridge, Tim Gallagher, Kyron Greene 3, Brion Brown, Malcolm Hill, Brett Barraclough.
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