With a little less than two minutes remaining in the championship game, Haverford coach Keith Heinerichs caught the attention of junior guard Hunter Kraiza.
“No more ‘threes,’ Hunter,” Heinerichs yelled.
Six was enough.
Kraiza made six three-pointers, including three in the fourth quarter, as fourth-seeded Haverford beat third-seeded Penncrest 49-40 on Tuesday night to capture the first Central League title in program history.
Kraiza’s sharp shooting, some strong all-around play by junior John Seidman and senior Sean Reynolds and some typically tough defense was enough to send the Fords up the ladder to snip the net at Harriton High School.
“It means so much because everyone doubted us,” said Kraiza, who led all scorers with 20 points.
Sophomore Nick Colucci added 12 points, making a pair of three-pointers in the decisive fourth quarter, and Seidman and Reynolds controlled the game’s pace for Haverford (16-9), which will be the 13th seed in the District 1 Class 6A tournament.
Junior forward Denzel Boyer scored 10 with 11 rebounds and three blocks for Penncrest (19-6), which will be the No. 3 seed in the District 1 Class 5A playoffs.
Haverford’s victory before a near-capacity crowd that included chanting student sections from each school completed a remarkable run through the league tournament and as even stronger surge since the middle of January, when the Fords looked anything like a future championship team.
“We were 2-7 (in league play),” Heinerichs said. “Six losses in a row. Down and out.”
The Fords rallied to win nine of their next 10, including three straight league tournament victories in which they allowed 36, 30 and 40. They beat regular-season champion Garnet Valley twice, including in Monday night’s semifinals, and pulled away from Penncrest with poised play in the fourth quarter.
“This means to so much after we lost all those games in a row,” Kraiza said “The losses were closes ones so we learned how to win in this tough situations.”
Heinerichs said the players kept his spirit from sinking through the losing streak.
“The kids were what kept me going,” Heinerichs said. “We lost three heart-breakers. I came into practice and their energy, their enthusiasm to be around each other, kept me going.”
Seidman, a rangy athlete whom Kraiza calls “the best player in the league” scored just three but grabbed eight rebounds and served as the Fords’ primary ball-handler. Reynolds scored seven and scrapped his way to three steals, three assists and four rebounds.
“Little things,” Heinerichs said. “That’s what makes a great team.”
The 6-3 Kraiza handled the scoring load. He made a trio of three-pointers in the second quarter, as the Fords took a 22-18 halftime lead, and three more of increasing importance in the final eight minutes.
“During warmup I was feeling good and then once that first shot went in I knew it was going to be my night,” Kraiza said.
Kraiza’s three-pointer off a nice feed from Reynolds gave the Fords a 33-27 lead with six minutes, 10 seconds to play. His next triple made it 41-30 at the 3:45 mark, and his final one sealed the deal by putting the Fords ahead by 45-31 with 2:35 left.
“It’s an amazing feeing, just hearing the crowd going crazy,” Kraiza said.
Kraiza launched another three-point attempt that rattled in and out at the 1:45 mark. That’s when Heinerichs told him that enough was enough.
“I wanted to make sure we got fouls and got to that double bonus,” Heinerichs said. “I have no problem but once it got under a minute and a half, I took green light away.
“But he was knocking them down. He made some big shots when we needed them.”
Haverford 6 16 8 19 – 49
Penncrest 10 8 9 13—40
H: John Seidman 3, Hunter Kraiza 20, Will Higson 2, Nick Colucci 12, Sean Reynolds 7, John Scheivert 5.
P: Marques Toimlin 6, Ben Stanton 6, Saahir Lee 11, Aidan Carroll 5, Denzel Boyer 10, Jordan Buckanski 2.