By ANDY EDWARDS
CHELTENHAM -- Different year, much different team.
Same old Church Farm.
Mike Mohamed led a balanced attack with 12 points as the Griffins cruised into their fourth consecutive District 1 Class A title game with a 72-38 victory over Phil-Mont Christian on Tuesday night at Cheltenham High School. Larry Cermak and John Rodriguez added 10 points apiece and Aondofa Anyam turned in a stellar all-around performance for top-seeded Church Farm, which locked up a state berth and cruised into Saturday’s championship against No. 3 Gospel of Grace Christian, set for 2 p.m. at Villanova University’s Pavilion.
"It feels great," said Cermak, whose team will go for a third consecutive district crown. "It’s kind of become a tradition for us."
After losing leading scorer Howard Sellars, who transferred to Coatesville before the start of the season, Church Farm was forced to become a different team. The Griffins did, keeping their customary defensive prowess while discovering a balanced offensive arsenal with a seemingly endless array of weapons. Without a go-to scorer, Church Farm has redefined itself to become more than the sum of its parts.
"Every team is different," head coach Marc Turner said. "This team is the most versatile team I’ve had. I have eight guys averaging six points or more. I’d rather have a team like that.
"I love Howard, and I miss Howard. He’s like a son to me, but at the end of the day, give me 10 guys who can play a little bit and now I have some pieces."
Every piece came together Tuesday for the Griffins, who puzzled the fourth-seeded Falcons into 28 turnovers on the night, allowing just 14 field goals in a comprehensive rout. While Cermak and Mlynue Reeves (nine points) took care of the interior, the Griffins’ athletic guards went to work, hounding shorthanded Phil-Mont up and down the court and turning the lion’s share of the Falcons’ turnovers into layups at the other end.
While Phil-Mont Christian was missing starting point guard Micah Baldez, Turner went nine players deep for the majority of the contest, substituting in and out with regularity. Ten Griffins scored in the game, and six grabbed at least three rebounds. Anyam filled the stat sheet and made his presence felt throughout, finishing with nine points, three rebounds, three assists, and six steals, two of them coming on back-to-back possessions to help Church Farm open up a double-digit lead for the first time early in the second quarter. The track star, who holds the school record in the high jump, showed off his one-of-a-kind athleticism on several occasions, jetting through the lane at mach speed and rising high above the rim to snare an offensive rebound. Along with Cermak, the junior guard has taken on a new leadership role in the absence of Sellars.
"I think every team loses some key players every year, and different people have to step up," Anyam said. "It’s the same thing with us. We lost a couple, but we’re just trying to do our best."
Instead of an alpha dog scorer, the Griffins now have a deep stable of complementary pieces and a unit every bit as potent as the last two district championship squads.
"It’s hard to get ready for us," Cermak said, "because anybody on the floor can score."
Playing a team they had beaten by 39 just a few days before, the Griffins came out slow. They led just 6-5 when Zach Dolton, who scored a game-high 14 points, hit a runner in the lane midway through the opening period. From there, Church Farm flipped the switch, taking a double-digit lead when Anyam converted a steal at midcourt into a flying layup at the other end to make it 23-12 early in the second. Anywam stripped a Falcons guard on the ensuing possession as well, blazing downcourt for a basket and the foul.
The Griffins closed the second quarter on a 16-4 run to take a 35-16 lead into halftime, then started the second half on a 10-2 run capped by a Rodriguez follow on a missed free throw that made it 45-18. The lead swelled to 30 early in the fourth, Turner emptying his bench as the clock wound down on the Griffins’ fourth straight trip to the district finals. In a new year, with a new team, the Griffins will try to accomplish what the last two did before them. After all, players may graduate, but tradition never does.
"I would imagine there’s not a lot of teams that can say that," Turner said of the opportunity for a three-peat. "We want to be one of those teams that is able to say that. Quite frankly, we’re pretty proud of the product we’ve put on the floor the last couple of years. We don’t want to let the previous teams down. We’re just hoping to continue the success."
Church Farm 72, Phil-Mont Christian 38
PHIL-MONT CHRISTIAN: M. Steiger 0 0-0 0, Luckey 3 0-0 7, Dolton 4 4-6 14, Brandenburg 1 0-0 3, N. Baldez 1 2-2 4, Byrd 4 0-0 8, Smith 1 0-0 2, E. Steiger 0 0-0 0, Griffin 0 0-0 0, Bone 0 0-2 0. Totals 14 6-8 38.
CHURCH FARM: Anyam 3 3-3 9, Bohm 2 1-2 5, Cermak 5 0-1 10, Ofray 2 1-1 5, Reeves 4 1-6 9, Shelton 2 0-0 4, Mohamed 6 0-0 12, Dagou 0 0-0 0, Towles 2 0-0 5, McDuffy 0 0-0 0, Pile 1 0-0 3, Render 0 0-0 0, Ogunleye 0 0-0 0, Rodriguez 5 0-0 10. Totals 27 6-13 72.
3-point goals: Luckey, Dolton 2, Brandenburg, Towles, Pile.