Its Chester vs. Lower Merion (again): Fridays Battle at Nova is a Rematch of Last Years District and State Finals

Its Chester vs. Lower Merion (again): Fridays Battle at Nova is a Rematch of Last Years District and State Finals


If
styles make fights, then Friday’s matchup between No. 1 Chester and No. 2
Lower Merion should be like a bonkers battle of the Klitschko brothers.
Chester, with their fast-paced, get up in your grill, crash the boards,
stuff it down your throat style, take on Lower Merion, with their
fast-paced, get up in your grill, crash the boards, stuff it down your …
wait, what?

Yep,
this year’s Lower Merion squad is different from years past. Sure, they
still take charges, and execute pump fakes, and wear Kobe’s sneaks, and
box out, and dive on the floor, and tuck their warmups in, but Coach
Gregg Downer has his team playing at a feverish pace, pressing full
court, pushing after makes and blitzing their opponents, not unlike
their arch enemy Clippers.

Chester
of course doesn’t care. No matter who they’re playing, be it Lower
Merion, Neumann, Temple, Princeton or Orlando Woolridge’s Denver
Nuggets, Chester is going to play however the freak they want. Watch the
defending state champs strut out in their neon pink, Under Armour high
tops and you’ll understand. Swagger is an understatement. Coach Larry
Yarbray’s Clips ooze confidence, luring opponents into playing at their
pace, and then strangling them like a Black
Pink Mamba. Just ask Abington, their victims Tuesday night in the
District Semis, who stayed within three points of the Clips midway
through the 3rd quarter before Chester went on a 20-1 run and ended up
winning BY THIRTY THREE POINTS. Even if the Aces suited up the Black
Mamba himself, the Clips would still walk into Villanova’s Pavilion
like they owned the place. Because, well, they do.

The History

Since
1994 (Kobe’s sophomore year and Downer’s fourth), Chester has won
ELEVEN district championships and finished runner up three times. Lower
Merion won the tourney in 1996 and finished as runners up three times
(2012, 2006 and 1995), all losses to Chester. In that same span, Chester
has won 5 state championships (2011, 2008, 2005, 2000 and 1994) and
finished runners up twice (2007 and 2003) while Lower Merion has won 2
state crowns (2006 and 1996) and finished second twice (2011, 2005). In
case that was the most confusing paragraph in the history of paragraphs,
here’s the Cliffs Notes version: these two teams are very good at
basketball.  

Since 1995, Chester leads the series between the two teams, 6-4.



The Players

Lower Merion - The Aces are led by silky smooth 6’5” swingman and Syracuse signee, BJ Johnson.
The back-to-back Central League Player of the Year busts it at both
ends of the floor, jumping passing lanes, forcing deflections, all his
master attempt to GET BUCKETS. The son of former La Salle Explorer,
Bobby Johnson, BJ struggled last year against the Clips and will look to
redeem himself under Villanova’s bright lights.

LM also features
another Johnson, junior point guard Jaquan Johnson,
a lightning quick lefty (yep, another lefty) who moved to Ardmore from
Chester before his Freshman year. Jaquan relishes big money matchups and
will undoubtedly be up for playing against his childhood buddies. (He’s
been exchanging tweets with them all week.) He’s also been known to do a
little jawing on the floor WHICH I LOVE. In last year’s state title
game against the Clips, Jaquan seemed to be the only LM player who knew
there was a title on the line.

Up front, the Aces will have the biggest
man on the floor, 6’8” Yohanny Dalembert,
younger half-brother of yup, you guessed it, Slammin’ Sammy. The
younger Dalembert, who moved to Lower Merion after the 2010 earthquake
in his native Haiti, has only been playing hoops for three years, but
seems to improve with every trip down the floor. Division I coaches are
starting to take interest. Not to be forgotten is senior guard, Raheem Hall, maybe the Aces best all-around player. A long, do-it-all slasher with go-go-gadget arms and a quiet mean streak.

Chester - Ohhhh, Rondae -- Rondae Jefferson
-- McDonald’s All American, 16th ranked prospect in the country,
Arizona signee, the area’s premier talent, ANOTHER LEFTY, and a walking
triple dubb. Last year in this game, playing primarily as a point guard,
Rondae pulled down 24 rebounds in the Clippers’ win. This year, he’s
added a low post game to his arsenal, punishing smaller opponents around
the bucket AND I LOVE IT. But Jefferson (younger brother of Temple’s
Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson) is at his best in the open court, pushing the
rock, finding teammates, or finishing himself. Lower Merion will have no
individual answer for Rondae. No one does.

Running alongside Jefferson
is Darius Robinson,
a shooting guard / bowling ball who plays the game like my Uncle Ivan
gets out of bed, niiiiiice and eeeeasy. Robinson is the essence of cool,
wapping threes, drawing fouls, rarely showing emotion, always putting
up numbers. There’s also tenacious rebounder, 6’7” Richard Granberry,
who seems to gobble up missed free throws and stick in put backs
whenever the Clips need him to. Oh, and Chester also has around 6 other
players who can fill it up. THEY ALSO WEAR PINK SNEAKERS.

source: aceshoops.com

The Fans

Lower Merion - If
you can’t stand the Cameron Crazies, then you will LOATHE the Dawg
Pound. A pack of 500 rabid teenagers, barking the entire game, taunting
their opponents, bee-bopping around, wearing ridiculous outfits, and
making you laugh maybe 17% of the time.

Chester - Old
heads, young heads, every kind of heads, Chester-lifers who have
forgotten more big games than you’ve ever been to. The Clipper cheering
section is filled with neighborhood legends, friends, family members,
each one decked out in Clipper orange -- often wearing custom made
t-shirts and sweatshirts that say things like, “Clipper Club since
1955.” How someone has not yet done a documentary on Clipper Mania is
beyond me. 


The Cheerleaders

No disrespect to the
Lower Merion squad, I'm sure they're a very nice group of young women,
but Chester's Cheerleaders ARE INCREDIBLE ... and will probably be way
more entertaining than any alley-oop rams or three-point bombs or
slop-filled nachos that you'll get at the game.


The Season

Lower Merion - The
Aces went undefeated in the Central League en route to what seems like
their bazillionth title in a row (it’s actually only their second).
Along the way, they defeated two nationally ranked teams (St. Frances of
MD and Bishop O’Connell of VA) as well as St. Joe’s Prep and St.
Raymond’s of NY. Their two losses were to Philly powers Neumann Goretti
and Imhotep Charter (who play each other in the District 12 AAA final).

Chester - The
Clippers (23-3) are ranked 24th in the NATION and have knocked off a
bucket-load of top teams including Lincoln (NY), Reading, Penn Wood and
Gonzaga (DC), but the Clips dropped three games during national
tournaments. Imhotep also came within two points of the big bad Clips.  

The Game

Friday night, 9pm, at Villanova’s Pavillion.

Lower
Merion (although at their best when they’re pressing full court) will
look to calm the game down, spread the floor and value every possession.
Chester will pressure the Aces, pound the glass and look to blow the
game wide open. I will sweat my butt off in Villanova’s rafters,
complain about lower back pain, and love every minute of it.

Prediction:
Chester 66, Lower Merion 59, number of scouts in attendance: 487.  

The Sneaks





Phillies beat writer promises to 'eat his shoe' if Tim Tebow ever plays in MLB

Phillies beat writer promises to 'eat his shoe' if Tim Tebow ever plays in MLB

The Philadelphia Phillies are among the teams who will go give Tim Tebow a look during his baseball workout for roughly 20 MLB teams.

That's according to Phillies beat writer Jim Salisbury who writes that the chances of Tebow making it to Major League Baseball as "extremely thin."

Then, when appearing on Philly Sports Talk on Tuesday evening, he tossed in the added bonus of shoe eating.

"I think this is more of a due dillegence thing just to say that you were there," Salisbury told Michael Barkann. "This guy hasn't played baseball in more than a decade. Before that it wasn't like he was a standout. He was more of a tools plalyer, a good athlete."

"If he ever plays a day in the big leagues I will eat my shoe," Salisbury said.

I think it's safe to say we are all pulling really hard for Timmy to make it now.

Phillies-White Sox 5 things: Can Phils pound James Shields like rest of MLB?

Phillies-White Sox 5 things: Can Phils pound James Shields like rest of MLB?

Phillies (58-68) at White Sox (60-64)
8:10 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies' brief two-game series with the White Sox ends tonight at U.S. Cellular Field. The Phils were pounded, 9-1, on Tuesday as they lost for the fifth time in seven games. They've been outscored 50-20 in those seven games.

Let's take a look at the series finale:

1. Get 'em through six
The Phillies turn to Jerad Eickhoff, who has been the most consistent of their many young right-handers. Eickhoff is 8-12 with a 3.91 ERA, and he's pitched at least six innings in 16 of his 25 starts.

That's notable at the moment because the Phillies aren't getting much length from any of their other young starters. Jake Thompson has averaged fewer than five innings in his four starts. Vince Velasquez is averaging 5.1 innings over his last four. Adam Morgan has averaged 4.3.

Unlike the others, Eickhoff has progressed rather than regressed this season. He hit a rough patch in April and early May and the struggles taught him to use his slider more. He went from being a three-pitch pitcher to a four-pitch pitcher, and the success of his slider made his fastball, sinker and curveball more effective.

That's the kind of adjustment a young pitcher needs to make. The adjustments for the others are pretty clear: Velasquez needs to mix his pitches better and get outs earlier in counts, while Thompson needs to throw more first-pitch strikes and get his slider below waist level.

Games in AL parks are always tougher on pitchers because of the DH, but Eickhoff has thrown well in both of his interleague starts in AL stadiums this season. He allowed one earned run in six innings at Target Field in Minnesota and pitched six shutout innings at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

It should benefit him that these White Sox hitters have never seen him. Players who don't have experience against Eickhoff tend to be frozen by his big hook.

2. Benefit of fresh arms
The Phillies' bullpen has been taxed lately because of the injuries and ineffectiveness of the starting rotation. Phils relievers have pitched an average of 3.9 innings per game in August. The starters have accounted for only 57 percent of the innings pitched. Not good.

Thankfully, the Phillies have been able to turn to somewhat fresh relievers. 

Edubray Ramos has made 23 appearances in July and August and shown flashes. He's struck out 29 and walked just six in 25⅓ innings this season. 

Michael Mariot, who missed the first six weeks of the season with an ankle injury, has a 3.24 ERA and has allowed just four baserunners in 8⅓ innings.

Manager Pete Mackanin spoke last week about wanting a few more relievers when rosters expand on Sept. 1. It would allow the Phillies to give Hector Neris more rest. Neris hasn't exactly been overworked — he's made 63 appearances and is on pace for 81 — but it could only help to lessen his load as the season nears its conclusion.

Neris continues to dominate, by the way. He's pitched 7⅔ scoreless innings in a row with 14 strikeouts. In 64⅓ innings this season, he has a 2.24 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 82 strikeouts and 18 walks. His opponents have hit .195.

3. Not the same James
The Phillies face veteran right-hander James Shields, who is having by far the worst year of his career. Shields, who began the year with the Padres before being traded at the beginning of June, is 5-15 with a 5.98 ERA. 

His numbers are even worse with Chicago — 3-8 with a 7.62 ERA and 1.82 WHIP. Everyone's pounding him — lefties, righties, good teams, bad teams. Shields' opponents have hit .297 with a .902 OPS. It's caused him to shy away from contact more and his walk rate has risen from 2.3 per nine in his previous 10 seasons to 4.3 this year.

Most teams stayed away from Shields in free agency prior to 2015 because of all the wear and tear on his arm. He was about to turn 33, and he had pitched an average of 223 innings over an eight-year span heading into that offseason. (He also pitched 60 total innings in the playoffs during those years.)

Those concerns appear to have been warranted, as Shields' stuff has declined in his mid-30s. Shields' fastball averaged 92.3 mph from 2012 to 2014 and is down to 90.4 this season. 

His changeup has always been his best pitch, even in recent years. From 2012 to 2015, his opponents hit .215 in 1,044 at-bats ending in a changeup. This season they've hit .263 with 14 extra-base hits, six of which were homers.

The Phillies saw Shields in the 2008 World Series. That was his third big-league season. A few Phils have hit him well — Odubel Herrera is 4 for 6; Peter Bourjos is 5 for 10 with a double and a homer.

4. Platooning Herrera?
Herrera has sat against most left-handed starting pitchers recently. Mackanin and the Phillies are trying to get him back to hitting the way he was earlier in the season, when he was seeing a ton of pitches and utilizing the opposite field. He hit .294 with a .378 on-base percentage in the first half but has hit .252 with a .321 OBP since the All-Star break.

Interestingly, Herrera fared well last season against lefties. He hit .293 against them in 123 at-bats as a rookie. In 2016, he's hit .225 against them in 120 at-bats. But a lot of those failures have come against left-handed relievers, who by nature are stingier against same-handed hitters because that's their specialty. 

Herrera, whose bat was missing from Tuesday's lineup against tough lefty Carlos Rodon, is actually hitting .309 (25 for 81) with a .398 OBP this season vs. left-handed starters. Against lefty relievers, he's 2 for 39.

5. Cell tower power 
U.S. Cellular Field is the only active big-league stadium in which Ryan Howard has never played. He sat last night but is expected to start tonight against the right-hander Shields.

Howard, who has taken Shields deep before, has homered in 25 of the 33 parks he's played in. If he hits one out tonight, that would be 26. 

It's not out of the realm of possibility given how locked in Howard has been. Over his last 13 games, he's 16 for 43 (.375) with four doubles, five homers and 13 RBIs. He's third in the majors in slugging percentage (.814) since July 29, behind only Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez and Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon.

Union-Crew 5 things: Still in good position, Jim Curtin's club looks to rebound

Union-Crew 5 things: Still in good position, Jim Curtin's club looks to rebound

Union at Crew
7:30 p.m. on TCN

Despite being dominated by Toronto FC on Saturday, the Union (9-9-7) managed to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, thanks to a handful of fortunate results around the league. But if the club wants to better its odds for the postseason, it needs to take care of business at Mapfre Stadium Wednesday night against the Columbus Crew (4-8-11).

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Playoff push
It hasn’t been a convincing few weeks for the Union. Although the club still sits fourth in the Eastern Conference despite one win in its last six games, it needs points to stay afloat. That quest begins Wednesday against the Crew.

“The focus is getting points,” Union defender Richie Marquez said. “For us, home or away, we need three points because we need to solidify that playoff spot.”

As of now the Union are in snug playoff position with 34 points — one ahead of the Montreal Impact and six in front of D.C. United and Orlando City for the sixth and final playoff spot. On the plus side, the club is one point behind the New York Red Bulls with a game in hand.

“It’s a push to get into the playoffs and try to see how high we can end up in the table,” Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “It’s important we don’t look too much at the standings because anything can happen in this league. It’s all really tight. It’s important we go to Columbus with the right mentality and come back to Philly with three points.”

2. Coming off a loss
Speaking of the playoff push, the Union’s dream of being a top-two seed in the East took a major hit Saturday in a 3-1 bashing by Toronto FC. The loss put Toronto up six and New York City FC up seven on the Union. 

Worst of all, it crushed all Union momentum coming out of a 4-0 win over the New England Revolution a week prior. Still, the club maintains its confidence heading into Wednesday.

“I feel good about this team and the players we have,” Bedoya said. “The goals we gave up were too easy. We have talent on this team, but there’s little things we have to fix. Once we get those right, we’ll be tough to break down.” 

As Jim Curtin explained, the short turnaround from Saturday actually works in the Union’s favor. 

“We were smart with how we managed the past two days in terms of getting the guys massages, taking care of their bodies, eating right and getting enough sleep,” he said. “They’ll be ready to go, they’re itching to get the bad taste out of their mouth after the Toronto game.”

3. Win-starved Crew
With the help of Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain, the Crew took down the floundering Revolution over the weekend. But that’s nothing to celebrate over. It was just the club’s fourth win of the season and second since May 28. 

The Crew are currently closer to having the lowest point total in MLS than a playoff spot.

“It’s been tough,” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It’s a team that I believe in deeply but it’s natural that confidence dips when you don’t get the results. It’s about believing in our playing style and fine-tuning things, approving in some areas. I think we did that in the last game.” 

Though the Crew attempt to climb out of the basement Wednesday, they know what they are up against. The Union took the first season meeting against the Crew, 2-1, and the second, 3-2. 

“They added Bedoya, who is a quality player,” Berhalter said. “Other than that, it’s similar to what they’ve been doing all year with [C.J.] Sapong and talented players behind him. Bedoya makes a good difference there, but they are a solid group and they’ll play with intensity. From our side, we’ll have to be smart how we approach the game.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: Facing the Crew twice this season, the Union have five goals. Chris Pontius has three of them. The Union forward scored the brace on March 12, then buried another on June 1. 

Crew: MLS rookie Ola Kamara leads the Crew with 10 goals, including one against the Union on June 1. Since May 28, the forward has 10 goals and one assist in 12 games.

5. This and that
• Facing the Crew has always been tough for the Union. Including two wins this season, the Union are 6-10-1 against the Crew all-time.

• The Union have only suffered back-to-back losses twice this season, and both times it happened in the club’s last 10 games.

• Of Kamara’s 10 goals this season, six have come at home. 

• The first-ever meeting between the Union and Crew happened on Aug. 5, 2010, and was a 2-1 loss for the Union. Sebastien Le Toux scored a penalty kick but Steven Lenhart buried the brace.