McFarlan puts Frankford back in the playoff win column over Bartram

Play­ing in the Pub­lic League’s top bas­ket­ball di­vi­sion of­fers a vary­ing list of pros and cons.

A top con would be with so many strong teams in Di­vi­sion A, there’s simply not enough wins to go around for every­body. On the flip side, com­pet­ing in such a rig­or­ous di­vi­sion al­lows each mem­ber to play all sea­son against the ab­so­lute best of the best with no cup­cake “easy wins” to be had on the dock­et. Not only that, but play­ing in Di­vi­sion A comes with an auto­mat­ic play­off berth, so a team could go 0-10 (there are six teams in the di­vi­sion, with each play­ing each oth­er twice) and still qual­i­fy for the post­season.

In 2013-14, Frank­ford was that team.

Make no mis­take about it: the Pi­on­eers cer­tainly took their fair share of lumps. Only two of Frank­ford’s 10 di­vi­sion losses were by less than 10 points, and after go­ing just 8-15 over­all as a team, it’s easy for those not in the know to just as­sume head coach Dave Huzzard’s team is devoid of any bas­ket­ball tal­ent.

This couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth. Take last Thursday’s first-round home play­off con­test against John Bartram, for ex­ample. In 32 minutes of mostly com­plete bas­ket­ball, the Pi­on­eers meth­od­ic­ally picked apart Bartram, a very strong Di­vi­sion B team that moved out of A fol­low­ing last sea­son, one in which it elim­in­ated Frank­ford from the post­season.

This time around was a dif­fer­ent story. The Pi­on­eers led Bartram from start to fin­ish, and they have seni­or Aaron Mc­Far­lan to thank. Though Mc­Far­lan was not the only one to step up for Frank­ford, the seni­or’s gritty 21-point, eight-re­bound ef­fort was con­ta­gious. More im­port­antly, Mc­Far­lan’s out­right re­fus­al to lose this game trickled down to his team­mates.

“We’ve been strug­gling all year, so it felt good to get a win,” Mc­Far­lan said. “My dad al­ways told me to come out in every game with a ton of heart and hustle, and that’s what I did today. I’m happy we’re still in the play­offs and that it wasn’t my last game. And just be­cause we lost all our di­vi­sion games doesn’t make us a bad team. I hon­estly think it helped us grow as a team, see­ing the best all sea­son.”

While Mc­Far­lan was speak­ing to a vis­it­ing re­port­er, Frank­ford ath­let­ic dir­ect­or Jack Creighton ap­proached and quipped that the Pi­on­eers were “the best 0-10 team in the Pub­lic League,” which pro­duced an ear-to-ear smile from Mc­Far­lan, who scored 10 of his 21 points in a cru­cial third quarter after Bartram had cut the de­fi­cit from 11 to four.

“Aaron’s gone to the hole for us all sea­son long,” Huzzard said of his 6-foot-1 seni­or. “He’s al­ways gone in amongst the trees, it just hasn’t al­ways worked against some of the taller teams in our di­vi­sion. The seni­ors really needed this, es­pe­cially Aaron, who has come such a long way for us.”

Frank­ford’s next test will come against a very fa­mil­i­ar foe, as the Pi­on­eers used the week­end and Monday to pre­pare for their Class AAAA semi­final against Di­vi­sion A rival King, which de­feated the Pi­on­eers 66-59 and 66-36 dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son. Des­pite King’s 18-4 over­all re­cord (7-3 in A), Mc­Far­lan said he and his team would ap­proach the game with no fear.

“We just have to play with this amount of heart and hustle against every­body,” Mc­Far­lan said. “We don’t do that all the time. We only lost to King by sev­en the first time be­fore they got us pretty bad the second time, but the third time, we’ll be ready.”

Ju­ni­or Odanis Betances (12 points, six re­bounds) and seni­or Rob Sim­mons (sev­en points, eight re­bounds) burned Bartram down low, and ju­ni­ors Mussa Ba (nine points) and Qua­dire Trues­dale (eight points) also were key con­trib­ut­ors. Huzzard has main­tained all year that he pre­ferred to keep his pro­gram in Di­vi­sion A so that his play­ers can de­vel­op at the highest level and hope­fully end up as strong as Im­hotep (8-2), Con­sti­tu­tion (8-2) and King (7-3) were this sea­son in 2014-15. 

“Every­one knows how good our di­vi­sion is, but what they don’t know is our non-league sched­ule was crazy, too,” Huzzard said. “We sched­uled some real tough teams so we’d be ready for the play­offs. Today, we were ready, and I think that tough sched­ule really helped us get this win.”

In a sea­son with more downs than ups, Huzzard and com­pany were thrilled to get that sweet taste of play­off vic­tory back in their mouths. 

“We just needed a win. The coach­ing staff needed a win. The seni­ors needed a win,” Huzzard said. “We lost in this build­ing in the play­offs to Bartram last year, and you just don’t want to leave your gym as losers. Today, we left as win­ners. We needed it. I know I did.” ••

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