Despite valiant effort, Frankford eliminated by King

On pa­per, an 18-4 bas­ket­ball team play­ing one with an 8-15 re­cord seems like a tre­mend­ous mis­match.

But the games are played on hard­wood, not pa­per, and that’s ex­actly how heavy un­der­dog Frank­ford ap­proached their Tues­day even­ing Class AAAA semi­final at Pub­lic League Di­vi­sion A rival Mar­tin Luth­er King High. Yes, the Pi­on­eers had lost twice to King dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son en route to an 0-10 di­vi­sion mark, but they had also played bet­ter of late, win­ning their reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nal against Cent­ral Bucks South be­fore cap­tur­ing a 66-55 first-round home play­off win over Bartram last week.

So the Pi­on­eers ap­proached this game like they had noth­ing to lose, be­cause hey, let’s face it, they didn’t. The res­ult was ul­ti­mately a 65-59 King win, prob­ably one of the most hard-fought of their now 19 total vic­tor­ies. King led 10-5 after one, 28-20 at half­time and 45-35 after three, but Frank­ford kept com­ing.

“We were very fa­mil­i­ar with one an­oth­er, and both teams struggled scor­ing early on,” Frank­ford head coach Dave Huzzard said by phone Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. “They had us on our heels at times, but we were cer­tainly in the game the en­tire time.”

The Pi­on­eers cut the de­fi­cit to as few as two points, but as Huzzard said, “We really struggled to get over the hump. It would go from two to five points, then we’d cut it to three, then they’d get it up to sev­en and back down to three or four, and so forth. We just nev­er got that big bas­ket when we needed it.”

Huzzard did get a sea­son-high 29 points from ju­ni­or Ladji Fofana, who had just two points in the win over Bartram. Though he will lose key seni­ors Aaron Mc­Far­lan, Rob Sim­mons and Joe Rick­etts to gradu­ation, the Pi­on­eers are mostly young and are view­ing this sea­son as a build­ing block to trans­ition­ing in­to a hope­ful Di­vi­sion A fron­trun­ner in 2014-15. It won’t be easy — noth­ing in the Pub­lic League ever is — but Huzzard’s feel­ing is yes, his team went 0-10 in the di­vi­sion, but they also got to com­pete against some of the city’s best play­ers. Not only is Fofana eli­gible to be back, but so are fel­low ju­ni­ors Mussa Ba, Qua­dire Trues­dale and Odanis Betances, all of whom played ma­jor minutes this sea­son.

Of course, ex­pect­ing an en­tire Pub­lic League roster to re­turn in­tact is akin to ex­pect­ing to win the lot­tery — yes, it would be great, but it’s also a long shot.

“As far as that goes, I’ve learned my les­son,” Huzzard said. “You kind of just cross your fin­gers and hope. But if we do get every­one back, we’ll enter next year with an ex­tremely strong nuc­le­us. They all got a lot of floor time against the city’s best. They got bet­ter and know what it’s like now. They can be a very strong team next year.”

Against King, Huzzard, a vet­er­an coach, showed that even those in charge of a team are vul­ner­able to mak­ing mis­takes that can be learned from dur­ing the course of a game. With Frank­ford down just three, Huzzard saw a King play­er step out of bounds with the bas­ket­ball right in front of his bench, a play the of­fi­cials failed to see. Huzzard lost his tem­per and ended up re­ceiv­ing a tech­nic­al foul.

“I made a huge mis­take and got on the ref,” he said. “He didn’t like my re­ac­tion, so he T’ed me up. They made both free throws to make it a five-point game, and we nev­er got closer than three the rest of the way. I need to keep my cool, and I apo­lo­gized to my team after. I take full re­spons­ib­il­ity.”

So in the end, the 2013-14 sea­son was a learn­ing ex­per­i­ence for both Huzzard and his play­ers. And after an 0-10 di­vi­sion mark, they all know that the only way to go from here is up.

“It was nice, the last couple of games we stopped for­cing shots and be­ing selfish,” Huzzard said. “Two-thirds of the way through the sea­son, it felt like we were headed nowhere. It’s nice to end on a pos­it­ive note, as op­posed to a month ago where we were in a dead-end situ­ation and not get­ting through to the kids. Things kind of came to­geth­er for us at the end.” ••

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