Garnet Valley's buzzer-beating 3 over Conestoga lifts the Jags into Central League playoffs

02/09/2018, 6:00pm EST
By Josh Verlin
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

With the final seconds ticking down, Austin Laughlinwanted the last shot. The Garnet Valley senior and its go-to gunner is capable of getting his shot off from NBA range, even with a hand or two in his face.
But Conestoga was well aware, and the Pioneers stuck tight to Laughlin as he got the ball in the final 10 seconds, not allowing him an inch of daylight as he looked for a potential game-winner.
And at the last second, Laughlin looked to his left and saw junior forward Cade Brennan open at the top of the key, ignored after setting a ball screen to set Laughlin loose. So Laughlin did something that Stoga definitely didn’t expect — he gave it up.
“I know I had faith in (Brennan),” Laughlin said. “He was ready to shoot, locked and loaded, so I gave him the ball — and he made it.”
Brennan’s look from the top of the key hit nothing but net. And in doing so, he delivered Garnet Valley into Central League playoffs for the first time ever, thanks to a 53-50 win.
“As soon as it left my hand,” he said, “I think it knew it went in. So I started running.”
Brennan, who finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds, ended up at the far baseline before getting surrounded by the 100 or so Garnet Valley students who had loudly supported the Jaguars all game long.
It was just Brennan’s second made 3-pointer all season, though the burly 6-5 forward has deployed a smooth mid-range jumper quite often over the last two seasons.
“I don’t really practice 3s,” he said. “That’s Austin’s job.”
Laughlin, who battled through foul difficulties, finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, plus three assists — certainly none bigger than his last.
“It was ironic, maybe, that Austin had the assist to Cade on the last play,” Garnet Valley coach Mike Brown said. “It means they trust each other, they talk about it all the time.”
The instant Brennan’s shot went in, Laughlin flipped his jersey over his head and ran down the floor with his teammate.
For the first time since Garnet Valley joined the Central League in 2008, the Jaguars were going to play in the league’s final four.
“I was so excited, I didn’t know what I was doing at that point,” he said. “We came off a tough loss to Haverford and knew we had to bounce back to get this win tonight and get into the Central League playoffs. We knew we had to come out together, all of our teammates chipped in and we got the win.”
As the No. 3 seed in the Central League playoffs, Garnet Valley (16-6, 11-5) will play No. 2 Lower Merion in the semifinals on Sunday at Marple Newtown High School  at 12:30 PM. Top-seeded Penncrest and No. 4 seed Upper Darby will meet in the other semifinal; the winners will play Tuesday night at Harriton.
It didn’t look like it might happen in the first quarter, when Laughlin picked up his third foul just six minutes in, and headed to the bench for the rest of the opening period and a majority of the second. He wasn’t the only Jaguars player to deal with foul trouble; fellow starter and senior guard Connor O’Brien also had three by halftime and picked up his fourth early in the third.
But neither guard fouled out, and the GV reserves did an admirable job with them on the bench, out-scoring ‘Stoga 17-11 in the second quarter to take a 23-19 lead into the break.
“It forced the other seven guys to step up — we use that term a lot, but they had to, the two senior leaders were on the bench,” Brown said. “I thought our team defense was really good; for us to give up 50 points, that’s not like us.”
Conestoga (14-8, 10-6) was led by 18 points and five rebounds from junior guard Zach Lezanic and 12 from junior guard Shane Scott. The Pioneers will have to wait to see what seed they end up in the District 1 6A playoffs; in the unofficial rankings, Garnet Valley was No. 9 and ‘Stoga No. 14 including this game’s result. The top eight seeds all get byes, with 24 total teams making the field.