Jeff Neiburg (@Jeff_Neiburg)
Haverford coach Keith Heinerichs fought back tears when talking about the effort of Tom Leibig and the rest of his Fords team.
“It’s a senior wanting to be a part of a good moment, and I’m happy for him…really happy,” Heinerichs said of the senior forward.
Heinerichs took the job at Haverford in the summer of 2011 after 11 years at Ridley.
“These kids started with us their sophomore year and just stuck with us.” Heinerichs said of his seniors. “For them to do that tonight is special.”
What they did was earn the program’s first PIAA District 1 victory in over 10 years and hand 10th-seeded Upper Darby just its fifth loss at home in the last four years.
Haverford is the district’s 23rd seed.
Leibig’s 20 points led all scorers, and his two triples to open the fourth quarter were part of a 10-3 run that put the game away – giving Haverford a 53-39 win against its long-time Central League rival.
Despite being at Upper Darby, the crowd seemed to be pro-Haverford.
“At first we didn’t want to play Upper Darby since we play in their league, but a lot of people got to see it,” Heinerichs said. “It’s a good moment.”
It was a case of the old cliché, “third time’s a charm.” Upper Darby had beaten Haverford by a combined score of 97-67 in the team’s previous two meetings.
Tonight was a different story, especially since the Royals were without senior forward Quadir Rice.
“We knew going into this game that it was going to be tough because we lost to them twice in a row,” Leibig said. “We wanted revenge obviously. We know we could play with them too; we just had two bad games against them I felt like.”
“It helped us losing to them twice. We came out more determined and ended up on top.”
It was pretty clear from the outset that Haverford was the more determined team. The Fords clawed and scraped for every loose ball and found ways to score against the bigger and more athletic Royals.
After trailing 11-10 following the first eight minutes, the Fords used two three’s – one from Leibig and one from guard Jim Roe – to outscore Upper Darby 15-9 in the second quarter and take a 25-20 lead into halftime.
“They outhustled us,” Upper Darby coach Bob Miller said. “They had seven offensive rebounds in the first half, we had about two or three. They just outworked us the entire ball game.”
“It’s a coach’s job to kids ready to go. We thought we were [ready] and [we] were not.”
In the third quarter, Upper Darby went to a zone and Haverford made just one field goal. But the Royals weren’t really able to capitalize and only outscored Haverford 8-6 that third quarter. Leibig was the steadying force, scoring all six points.
Then the 10-3 run happened. Leibig opened the scoring in the fourth with a 3-pointer. Upper Darby senior guard Torey Green answered right back with one of his own. But Leibig wouldn’t be stopped, canning yet another trey to put the Fords back up 37-31.
Haverford scored the next four points, forcing Miller to call a timeout with just over five minutes to go.
“We made a little run and they were having trouble with the 1-3-1 and then he drains those two three’s,” Miller said. “Then we panicked. We gave up easy shot after easy shot.”
The Fords needed just one more basket the rest of the way, a 3-pointer from forward Ryan Clancy that gave Haverford a 46-35 lead with 2:30 to play. They hit 9-of-12 free throws down the stretch to seal the deal.
Heinerichs’ offense is predicated on motion sets with constant ball movement, always looking for the best shot available.
The 12-for-21 (57 percent) shooting performance from the floor is pretty indicative of that. Even when Upper Darby turned up the pressure when trailing in the second half, Haverford found a way to stay composed.
“We worked on breaking press and getting organized, which has been a little bit of our Achilles heel,” Heinerichs said. “I think the first two times that hurt us.”
Without the 6-foot-4 Rice in the lineup, much of the focus offensively for Upper Darby fell on senior center Beni Toure. The 6-foot-5 Toure was held to 11 points, as Haverford was effective fronting him on defense, and collapsing on him when he got the ball in the post. Toure did pull in a game-high nine rebounds however.
Green joined Toure in double figures with 13 points. As a team the Royals shot just 33 percent (15-of-45).
Though Leibig was the only Fords player in double digits, guard Mike O’Halloran chipped in nine points while Clancy and guard Jack Donaghy added eight apiece.
Up next for Haverford is a date on Tuesday in the second round with seventh-seeded Abington, who dismantled North Penn 61-44 in Friday’s first round matchup. A win would guarantee a spot in the PIAA Class AAAA State Playoffs for either team.
“We play Haverford basketball,” Leibig said. “When we do that and play with that energy, I think we can beat any team.”