Since Girard College had throttled Faith Christian in the PIAA District 1 Class A championship game earlier this month, a similar outcome was expected by many in the rematch.
But the Lions gave the heavily favored Cavaliers all they could handle for most of Monday night's state semifinal before bowing, 67-58, at Spring-Ford.
Despite the team's 72-40 romp over Faith in the district final, Girard wing guard Daiquan Copeland said he and his teammates did not arrive anticipating another blowout.
"We knew Faith was a good team," he said. "After what happened the first time we played them, we knew they were going to come in with something to prove."
Sawyer Smith's pull-up jumper in the lane gave the Lions a 45-37 advantage with 1 minute, 26 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
"Basketball is a game of runs," Copeland said. "We just had to keep playing hard and stay with our game plan. The key thing was not to panic."
With the contest deadlocked at 51 midway through the fourth stanza, Girard put together an 8-0 spurt that began with Copeland's floater, was followed by Mikeal Jones' thunderous dunk off a feed from Kasim Toliver, and was capped by Brandon Smith's two free throws.
Girard (24-8) will take on District 10's Kennedy Catholic for top honors at 2 p.m. Thursday at Hershey's Giant Center. The Gaels (25-2) advanced Monday with a 73-59 defeat of District 7's Monessen at Slippery Rock.
Copeland, who came over to Girard from Paul Robeson this school year, spurred the win over Faith (27-5) with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists.
The 6-foot-4, 175-pounder shot 6 for 12 from the field (1 for 4 from beyond the arc) and 9 for 10 from the line.
Girard, guided by first-year coach Clyde Jones, prepared for the playoffs with a rigorous nonleague schedule. Among its challenging foes were Perkiomen Valley, Archbishop Ryan, Haverford School, and Math, Civics and Sciences.
"Playing teams like that toughened us up and made us so much better," Copeland said. "We're benefiting from that now."
Mikeal Jones, a 6-foot-8 wing and Division I prospect who transferred to Girard after playing one season at Roman Catholic, produced 17 points, five boards, two blocks, and a steal against Faith.
"We knew a little bit about each other, but we didn't have a close relationship before coming here," Copeland said. "He's a real good guy. We work well together on the court."
For the Lions, 6-5 senior Zeke Snowden had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Smith, a 6-7 junior, added 13 points.
Faith Christian 15 15 15 13 - 58
Girard College 21 9 11 26 - 67
FC: Darius Forney 3, Zeke Snowden 14, Charles Ervin 9, Miki Vitek 9, Landon Coyle 2, Anthony Sessa 7, Sawyer Smith 13, Derian Bradford 1.
GC: Kasim Toliver 8, Craig Logan 6, Mikeal Jones 17, Daiquan Copeland 22, Brandon Smith 10, Aquil Stewart 4.