Derry boys rout Southmoreland to earn program’s 1st playoff victory

Monday, March 1, 2021 | 9:07 PM

The long wait is over for Derry. And don’t even think about stamping an asterisk next to the Trojans’ accomplishment.

Forget the circumstances surrounding a season unlike any that came before it in the WPIAL. Forget program shutdowns, daily uncertainty and a free-for-all playoff tournament that gave the Trojans the option to try to extend their season.

None of that mattered to the Trojans as the final seconds melted away Monday night in a rare home playoff game framed by history.

Derry earned its first playoff win in boys basketball program history, setting the tone with a long-range barrage in the first half on the way to a 64-39 victory over Southmoreland in a Class 4A preliminary-round game.

The 13th-seeded Trojans (6-6), who contemplated not entering the playoffs but are glad they did, advance to play at No. 4 Quaker Valley (12-4) at 6 p.m. Thursday in the first round.

“It’s amazing for these kids after all they have been through,” Derry coach Tom Esposito said. “It can be such a challenge every day. You don’t know if you’ll have to stop or if you’ll get another game. This group is about resiliency. They were determined to get the first win. They earned the right to be in the playoffs.”

Derry made 10 3-pointers. It connected on eight 3s in the first half — four by senior guard Josh Ulery — to build a 43-23 lead by halftime.

“We shot the lights out early,” Esposito said. “There were weeks when we didn’t make 10 3s. We knew we just had to be us and come out and dictate the tempo. We moved the ball extremely well and got some good looks.”

Ulery said the Trojans fed off the energy of the fans in the gym. The crowd was slightly larger than normal with Gov. Tom Wolf announcing indoor events could have 15% capacity.

“It was a great feeling to win our first playoff game on our home court in front of the most fans we’ve played in front of all year,” Ulery said. “If we shoot the ball well, we can be a really good team. When we play as a team and everyone gets involved in the scoring, we play our best basketball.”

Southmoreland (2-17), seeded 20th in the 21-team field, was outscored 14-4 in the third as Derry triggered the mercy rule late in the quarter on a three-point play by senior Sam Jones to make it 57-27.

The young Scotties could not match the Trojans’ tempo and touch from deep.

“Earlier in the year, things may have gotten worse for us, and the kids may have put their heads down,” Scotties coach Frank Muccino said. “But they kept competing tonight, kept fighting. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores. It took them too long to catch their legs and get comfortable.”

Jones led three double-figure scorers for Derry with 17 points. Ulery added 14, including four first half 3s, and junior Tyson Webb chipped in 10.

“There is no greater feeling,” said Derry senior guard Ryan Bushey, the team’s leading scorer for the season who had six points but helped the Trojans with assists and steals that led to fast-break points. “No one really expected this team to win the first playoff game in school history except our guys in the locker room. Tonight was a complete team effort. I look forward to playing more basketball.”

The Trojans led 21-6 in the first quarter after Webb hit a 3. They made three straight 3s, two by Ulery, to jump-start their hot-shooting night.

“Our defense did some good things to set up or offense,” Esposito said. “This win goes back to some of our recent practices. Saturday’s was very intense. Coach Matt Polinsky really does a great job getting these guys ready.”

Freshman Ty Keffer led the Scotties with 16 points, including three 3s, and sophomore Kelvin Lin had 13, with a trio of shots from deep.

“When a team makes 10 3s against you, it’s hard to stay in the game,” Muccino said. “Derry did a nice job of shooting and rebounding.”

Webb and seniors Isaiah Ward and Nick Detore also hit a pair of 3s for Derry.

“I’m so proud of this team,” Esposito said. “I am so blessed to be able to go along on the ride with them.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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