Once again, Chester vs. Lower Merion

Posted: March 22, 2013

Sound the bell for Round No. 4.

In what is the teams' fourth meeting in two seasons, Lower Merion and Chester will square off for the PIAA Class AAAA boys' basketball title. The rematch of last year's final, easily won by the Clippers, is set for 8 p.m. Saturday at Hershey's Giant Center.

Top-ranked Chester (28-3) has won the last three contests - including last year's 59-33 romp at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center - by an average of 16 points.

That said, not many expect the third-ranked Aces (29-3) to thwart the Clippers' bid for a three-peat. Could that result in a false sense of comfort for the reigning champs?

"I don't think so," Chester coach Larry Yarbray said. "We know Lower Merion is going to come out and play hard, leave everything on the court. They may have some tricks up their sleeves. We have to be ready."

Three weeks ago, in the District 1 final at Villanova, the Clippers, aided by a 16-3 burst in the third quarter, topped the Aces, 60-46.

Chester, which has won 78 straight games against Pennsylvania opponents, thrives with its ball-hawking defense. Lower Merion will have to avoid a repeat of last season, when it committed 29 turnovers.

The Clippers' nine-man rotation is headed by three seniors: 6-foot-7 swingman and Arizona recruit Rondae Jefferson (15.6 ppg.), 6-7 forward Richard Granberry (12.3 ppg.), and wing guard Darius Robinson (12 ppg., 61 three-pointers).

Also in the explosive mix are speedy guards Conrad Chambers, Rashan DeJarnette, James Kirksey, and Isaiah Warren.

For the Aces, B.J. Johnson, a 6-7 swingman and Syracuse signee, and 6-8 senior forward Yohanny Dalembert form a solid one-two punch.

Johnson (16.3 ppg., 48 threes) and Dalembert (10.9 ppg., 9.3 rpg.) combined for 37 points in Tuesday's 67-63 win over District 7's New Castle.

Other threats for Gregg Downer's squad are senior wing guard Raheem Hall (10.7 ppg., 4 rpg., 3.7 apg.), junior floor general JaQuan Johnson (9.9 ppg., 3.1 apg.), and junior swingman Justin McFadden (5.6 ppg., 3.8 rpg.).

Chester has won in states by an average margin of 17.5 points. Lower Merion hopes it has enough gas left in the tank after surviving thrillers against New Castle and District 3's Harrisburg (63-62).

Pick: The Aces are capable of pulling off a stunner in Chocolate Town. But we expect the Clippers, fueled by their defensive tenacity, to take home their ninth crown. Chester, 66-56.

Here is a look at the weekend's other title games involving area teams.

Class AAA

Archbishop Carroll (23-6) vs. Imhotep Charter (27-5), 8 p.m. Friday. The Patriots are trying for their first championship since 2009; Imhotep, moving up from Class AA, seeks its third straight title.

In its surprising run to Hershey, Carroll has been spurred by 6-6 sophomore Derrick Jones (14.2 ppg.), senior point guard Yosef Yacob (13.1 ppg., 35 threes), and 6-9 sophomore center Ernest Aflakpui (6.6 ppg.).

Sophomore combination guard Nick Jones (10.7 ppg., 40 threes) and junior wing guard Joe Mostardi (8.1, 43) round out coach Paul Romanczuk's starting lineup.

Imhotep, guided by Andre Noble, is sparked by 6-6 senior guard Brandon Austin, a Providence recruit who averages 16.8 points. Other key contributors for the Panthers are Basil Thompson, a 6-6 junior forward, and senior guards Deryl Bagwell and Abraham Massaley.

Pick: Imhotep is big, experienced, and battle-tested. That spells a win over surging and red-hot Carroll. Imhotep, 54-47.

Class A

Vaux (23-8) vs. Johnsonburg (30-2), 2 p.m. Friday. Vaux, set to close in June, is on the verge of its first state title.

Rysheed Jordan (24.6 ppg.) and the Cougars might have overcome their biggest hurdle in pounding Public League Division A rival Math, Civics & Sciences, 83-66, in the semis.

District 9's Johnsonburg is led by junior guards Cole Peterson (15.8 ppg., 33 treys) and Cameron Grumley (15.4, 59).

"From what I've seen on tape, they look a lot like us," Vaux coach Jamie Ross said. "They're not that big, but they seem to be very quick."

Jordan is supported by sophomore guard Sammy Foreman, 6-3 senior forward Amir Butler, 6-8 junior center Trayvond Massenburg, and senior snipers Daron Johnson and Lester Mattox.

Pick: The Cougars have been a cohesive group down the stretch. That will continue against an undersized foe. Vaux, 68-51.

Contact Rick O'Brien at robrien@phillynews.com. Follow @ozoneinq on Twitter. Read his blog, "The O'Zone," at www.philly.com/ozone

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