Not many people outside the Archbishop Ryan locker room expected much from the Raiders after junior star Aaron Lemon-Warren, the Philadelphia Catholic League’s leading scorer, suffered a broken foot in late January.
“Who could blame them?” Archbishop Ryan coach Joe Zeglinski said of the skeptics. “We lost one of the best players in the league, a guy who was averaging 24 points a game.
“But our feeling right away was, ‘No excuses. We’ve got to find a way.’ ”
Somehow and some way, Archbishop Ryan found the path back to the Palestra for the PCL semifinals for the third time in Zeglinski’s five seasons.
The first couple of weeks without the dynamic Lemon-Warren were a little rough, but the Raiders have found their footing in the playoffs, beating West Catholic in the first round and stunning second-seeded Bishop McDevitt in Friday night’s quarterfinals.
“Everybody has raised their game a little bit,” Zeglinski said.
Senior Gediminas Mokseckas led the way in the 58-56 victory over Bishop McDevitt. The rangy swingman got to the foul line, where he converted seven of eight shots, and finished with 18 points.
“He was great,” Zeglinski said.
But it was a team effort. Sophomore Luke Boyd, who has shouldered some of the scoring load in Lemon-Warren’s absence, buried six three-pointers to score 18 points. Senior center Christian Isopi was sturdy on defense and on the glass. Junior point guard Dom Vazquez controlled the game’s tempo, avoiding turnovers and getting the Raiders into their offensive sets.
And sophomore swingman Jalen Snead made several “hustle plays,” according to his coach, and also gave the Raiders the lead for good with a scrambling put-back with a little more than two minutes on the clock.
All of which earned Archbishop Ryan another trip to the Palestra and a date with No. 3 seed Neumann Goretti in the nightcap of Wednesday’s doubleheader.
“They probably have the most firepower in the league from one to seven,” Zeglinski said of Neumann Goretti.
But entering the famous arena on Penn’s campus as a heavy underdog seems fine with the Raiders.
“It’s really been about belief and toughness,” Zeglinski said. “These guys have embraced that, they’ve shown that, and it’s been so much fun to coach them.”
Here’s a closer look at Wednesday’s semifinals:
This is a rematch of perhaps the best game of the regular season, the Vikings’ 94-93 victory over the visiting Cahillites in a double-overtime classic on Jan. 19.
Archbishop guard Jaylen Stinson forced the second overtime with a three-pointer that beat the buzzer at the end of the first extra session. He finished with 25 points, including 11 after regulation.
Junior guard Rahsool Diggins, named the league’s MVP in a coaches’ vote, scored 28 that day, and junior swingman Daeshon Shepherd added 24.
Junior swingman Marcus Randolph and junior forward Muneer Newton are two other players to watch for Archbishop Wood, which has won 17 of its last 18.
Roman Catholic is led by senior guard Lynn Greer III, a seasoned veteran, as well as sophomore stars Jalen Duren and Justice Williams, both of whom are regarded as among the top players in the country in the class of 2022.
The 6-foot-9 Duren, a dominant force in the paint, scored 34 points in the Jan. 19 game, and the springy, 6-4 Williams scored 32.
Senior guard Nasir Lett and freshman guard Xzayvier Brown are other players to watch for Roman Catholic, which has won seven of eight since suffering back-to-back, double-overtime losses to Neumann Goretti and Archbishop Wood during the weekend of Jan. 17-19.
These teams probably won’t combine for 187 points again. But look for a high-flying, fast-paced game since for most of the night there will be eight or nine future NCAA Division I players on the court.
This is a rematch of a 75-58 victory by the visiting Saints on Jan. 27.
Neumann Goretti built leads of 13-0 and 22-4 in that game as senior swingman Cameron Young (22) and senior guard Hakim Byrd (18) led the way.
Injuries to Young and Byrd, both of whom are back in the lineup, slowed the Saints a bit late in the regular season. Senior swingman Jordan Hall, junior forward Blaise Vespe and junior guards Hysier Miller and Chris Evans are other players to watch for Neumann Goretti.
The Saints looked back in top form in a 71-46 win over Cardinal O’Hara in Friday night’s quarterfinals.
Archbishop Ryan was off to a 13-4 start before the injury to Lemon-Warren.
The Raiders went 1-4 in their last five games of the regular season, with every setback by at least 14 points. But they’ve found new life in the postseason, beating West Catholic, 49-45, in the first round and stunning Bishop McDevitt in the quarterfinals.