Locked in a tense and even battle with Allen, Freedom High Schools boys basketball team needed a little spark to get some separation.
That spark came in the form of a whistle.
And that whistle was big trouble for the Canaries.
Fourth-seeded Freedom knocked off top-seeded Allen, the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference champion, 75-71 in the District 11 Class 6A semifinals on Wednesday night at Libertys Memorial Gymnasium.
The Patriots (16-8) advance to meet seventh-seeded Northampton, a 60-46 winner over Easton, in the district championship 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Easton Area Middle School.
That's a fun one. These kids deserve it, Freedom coach Joe Stellato said. (Allen)'s a great basketball team, obviously. We've said it before, it's tough to win a league championship and come back and win a district championship. It's just not easy. But, they're a very good basketball team; they're well-coached by a legend. It was just our turn tonight.
I'm speechless, senior guard Malek Mims said. Emotions are crazy right now ... Our team has been talking about it for so long ... For it to come true is amazing.
Mims slashed to the basket and scored while being fouled by Allen senior big man Quinton Stewart, giving Freedom a 38-34 lead with 5:32 left in the third quarter. In the commotion after the play, Stewart was whistled for a technical, which gave him a fifth and disqualifying foul, and left the Canaries without one of their post players.
That was huge. He was killing us, Stellato said. When they have two bigs (Stewart and Aquele Adderley) like that in the game, they're a dangerous team. They've proved that all year long. That obviously helped us, because it's tough to cover both those guys.
That's their strength and that's one of our weaknesses our rebounding, Patriots senior guard Caleb Mims said. When he fouled out, they were the same size as us. That was a huge advantage for us.
Canaries coach Doug Snyder was disappointed to see his team falter on what was a point of emphasis.
The word 'composure' was used several times in the pregame speech ... We've played them twice. In both cases, there were several technical fouls called on both sides. I knew that was going to be the case, Snyder said. I said to our guys, 'You need to keep your calm; you need to be composed; you need to keep your cool.' We didn't do that. We have to accept the blame on that. Quinton Stewart can't sit on the bench for almost an entire half of a district semifinal.
Malek Mims sank the two free throws from the technical and the one for the original foul. Then, senior guard Malik Harrington drilled a 3-pointer and Freedom took a 44-34 lead by scoring eight points in just 32 seconds of game time.
The Patriots led by as many as 13, 51-38, after a layup by senior David Barnes in the final minute of the third quarter.
The Canaries (22-5) cut into Freedoms margin by getting to the foul line in the final period. Allen made nine foul shots down the stretch, but the Patriots still seemed to have the game in hand when senior forward Samir Georges rebounded a missed foul shot and scored to give Freedom a 68-62 edge with 1:20 on the clock.
Allen junior Mel Copeland, however, drained a deep 3-pointer to slice Freedoms advantage to 68-65 with 1:05 to play and then Freedom turned the ball over thanks to a backcourt violation.
The Canaries missed a shot on the ensuing possession and Malek Mims followed with two pairs of free throws to seal the result in the final 45 seconds.
The formula that we developed over the course of our success this season was not followed tonight, Snyder said. We were sloppy, undisciplined, a little selfish ... Freedom made us pay.
Caleb Mims finished with 20 points for Freedom. Malek Mims and Barnes added 16 points apiece.
Stellato was happy with the contributions the Patriots received across the board.
They came up huge, the coach said. Taj Montgomery came in and had a great second half. Barnes played outstanding. Georges came in and had that huge layup. Everybody contributed; it wasn't just The Mims Show tonight.
Everybody played their game, said Malek Mims, who set the school record with his 252nd career steal. Nobody tried to do too much. We shared the ball. Everybody did their thing and stepped up.
Ellis finished with 24 points, followed by Copeland (17), Manny Ozuna (14) and Adderley (13) for the Canaries, who now play Easton in a consolation game noon Saturday at Pleasant Valley.
I think I have to come after them hard tomorrow in practice and see where they're at, Snyder said. I asked them to look in the mirror and accept the fact that they made mistakes.
Freedom will make its first appearance in the district final since losing to Parkland in 2013. The Patriots, who beat Northampton 74-68 in January, havent won a D-11 crown since 1976.
Similarly, the Konkrete Kids (15-9) havent captured a district title since 1972.
Something has to give.
We're not going to go in there all cocky, Malek Mims said. We're going to prepare for them the right way and try to do our best to win that game.
Both of us are very hungry, Caleb Mims said. Nobody expected this. Its going to be a war. Im sure theyll be ready and so will we.
Kyle Craig may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @KyleCraigSports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.
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