Photos/Videos: Lennie Malmgren & Donna Eckert
By: Marc Narducci
Academy of the New Church 6-5 combo guard Bahsil Laster has been among the top seniors in the Friends League, make that one of the top players, regardless of class.
More than just his output has been the leadership, on what is among the younger teams in the Friends League.
That leadership will continue in Friday night’s 8 p.m. Friends League championship against Friends Central at La Salle University.
Top seeded ANC earned a 53-45 semifinal win over No. 4 seeded Friends Select while No. 2 seeded Friends Central defeated Westtown, 62-59 in Tuesday’s semifinals.
This will be the fifth straight championship appearance for ANC, which his seeking its first Friends League title since 2009.
On a team with three sophomores averaging double figures in scoring, Laster has led one of the league’s more balanced teams.
He entered the week averaging a team-high 15.4 points. Laster does much more than score, averaging 5.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.0 steals.
“I don’t see too many big problems with having a young team,” Laster said. “I have been more vocal this year, talking to my team and making sure everybody’s head is up.”
A key in the semifinal win was the free throw shooting of Laster, who hit 11 of 12 from the foul line in scoring a team-high 14 points.
“The last couple of games he has won them for us at the foul line,” ANC coach Kevin Givens said of Laster.
It is a continuation of the all-around performance Laster has provided this season.
“He has shown great senior leadership and is providing scoring for us as well as great defense,” Givens said.
In the semifinal win, three sophomores were also double-figure scorers – 6-2 Tobe Nwobu scored 13 points and had four steals and three assists, while 6-6 Ryan Warren and 6-7 Cameron Smith had 10 and nine points respectively.
“We took off in the last three to four minutes, with a couple of key steals, great defense and Tobe Nwobu hit a couple of big threes,” Givens said.
Now it is on to the championship game as Laster continues to add highlight film plays to his resume tape.
Laster, who has not made a college choice, said he has been recruited as a point guard.
“I am trying to get my jump shot as efficient as possible so I can be more of a catch-and-shoot threat spreading the floor,” said Laster, who is shooting 41 percent from three-point range. “I want to be somebody that the defense has to keep and eye out for and also a player who can guard (positions) 1 through 3, make good passes and take smart shots.”
He has certainly been doing that this season in the Friends League.
Laster has not made any official college visits but said he made unofficial visits to Lafayette and La Salle.
In its 62-59 semifinal win over Westtown, Friends Central trailed, 40-25 at halftime and 52-42 after three quarters before a 20-7 fourth quarter advantage.
“It was a nice come from behind win,” said first-year Friends Central coach Devin Coleman. “We had a 13-0 run to close the game.”
His team showed the type of fight that has been on display all season.
“Our guys just didn’t give up,” Coleman said. “They were ready to play, to make some noise and that is what I saw, guys just wanting their season to continue and position themselves to go out on a high note.”
Friends Central 6-3 senior Muhsin Muhammad led the Phoenix with 22 points, while 6-1 senior Fazl Oshodi added 17 points. Pat Feamster, a 6-4 freshman, scored nine points, but seven came in the decisive fourth quarter.
Westtown was led by 6-6 junior Cam Wallace, among the top players in the area, who scored 19 points.
On Jan. 10, ANC earned a 64-51 home Friends League matchup over Friends Central, handing the Phoenix what would be their lone Friends League loss of the season,
Leading 42-35 after three quarters, ANC clinched the win with a 22-16 fourth quarter advantage.
Warren led the way for the winners with 19 points, shooting 9-of-15 from the field.
ANC was able to win despite a poor shooting night. The Lions were 2-of-12 from three-point range and just 10-of-20 from the foul line. A 48-34 rebounding edge aided ANC.
Yet another sophomore, 6-4 Dior Carter, had 14 points and 12 rebounds for the winners, while 6-0 senior Nolan Waldon added 10 points and five steals.
For Friends Central, Oshodi led the way with 18 points, while Muhammad had 10 points and six rebounds.
One other tidbit – according to PSD’s Rich Flanagan, this is the first title matchup between ANC and Friends Central since 2011. Friends Central won that game 52-48 when current coach Coleman scored a team-high 17 points to lead the victory.
Even though the end of the Friends League season is on Friday, the teams will still be vying for a state championship. Many compete in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) state championship.
This year’s Play-in games must be played by Feb. 14
First-round games will be played by Friday, Feb. 16, with second-round games to be played by Tuesday Feb. 20.
The semifinal games are Friday Feb. 23, and the championship will be March 3 at St. Joseph’s University Hagan Arena.
The Perkiomen School is the defending champion, having defeated the George School, 79-77 in the championship.
2023: George School
2021: No champion due to COVID