Lower Merion beats Chester for PIAA Class AAAA boys title

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HERSHEY, Pa. -- His sweater spotted with drops of sweat, Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer emerged from his victorious locker room with a slight smile and a look of relief.

What a week it has been for the Aces and their head coach. First Downer's wife gave birth to a daughter on Thursday morning, then Lower Merion beat rival Chester on Saturday night to win a PIAA Class AAAA title.

B.J. Johnson had 22 points, and Jaquan Johnson's hustle sparked Lower Merion's defense late in the 63-47 victory that capped championship weekend.

"It's been amazing. Arguably, some of the best 72 hours of my life," Downer said. "I have a beautiful young daughter at home now, and I have my third gold medal for a group of incredible kids."

And the program's seventh overall -- though this one might be more special because the Aces (30-3) beat the Clippers (27-4). It was a rematch of last year's Class AAAA title game, which Chester won, 59-33.

"We just had a game plan to have fun out there," Jaquan Johnson said.

Like when Johnson found Yohanny Dalembert (10 points, seven rebounds) for a dunk with 5:55 left.

Or when Johnson got a steal on Chester's next possession and found Raheem Hall for a layup on the break to take an 11-point lead roughly 30 seconds later.

Chester's 78-game winning streak against Pennsylvania opponents came to a halt. It also was held to a season low in points, thwarted in part by 1 of 13 shooting from 3-point range.

"Tonight just wasn't our night. We seemed a step slow. We just couldn't find that spark we needed," Chester coach Larry Yarbray said. "The past three years we've won something like 105 games, and I'm proud of my guys for that. But tonight wasn't our night."

Rondae Jefferson had 12 points and 18 rebounds to lead Chester, and Richard Granberry had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

The Clippers appeared to be the favorite in the PIAA's marquee matchup of championship weekend. But Lower Merion had the smooth, cool B.J. Johnson, who calmly handled Chester's pressure. He finished 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 8-of-11 shooting from the line.

Last year, the 6-foot-7-inch forward, who plans to attend Syracuse, had seven points and six rebounds in the title game.

"He worked so hard the last 12 months to potentially gain this redemption," Downer said of Johnson.

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