The coaches from both schools reiterated those compliments Tuesday night after the Battling Bulls ended the Rams' season with a 55-53 victory in the second round of the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs at Spring-Ford High School.
Glen Mills head coach Craig Mellinger and Spring-Ford boss Dave Caldwell have spent time together during summer camps at the University of Delaware in the past. This time they had to go head-to-head with advancement on the line.
The third-seeded Rams (23-3), who finished the finest season in school history, held a 30-24 halftime lead before the 19th-seeded Bulls (15-9) outscored them 31-23 in the second half.
"We knew coming in here about Dave and (athletic director, former assistant coach) Mickey McDaniel," Mellinger said. "I have known them for a long time. We scrimmage them every year. We know they run a class program and their kids play like crazy. They play smart and we like to expose our kids to that.
"Dave and I were surprised it didn't happen sooner. We had to handle their execution. Our kids made some adjustment as the game went along."
The outstanding scholastic contest was tied three times in the fourth quarter at 44, 46 and then 50 with 2:48 left in regulation time. The Bulls wound up winning with five foul shots in eight attempts down the stretch.
The Pioneer Athletic Conference champion Rams got a career-high 24 points from junior point guard Julius Lopez, who made a three-point play off a drive with 1:47 showing to give S-F a 53-52 edge.
However, the Rams did not score again despite attempts by Eric Burnett (10 points, two treys) and a last-second 3-point try by Ryan Kraft (15 points, three treys, 11 boards) that could have won the game.
"Kraft had a great look," Mellinger said. "He was just a little farther out than he would have liked."
Junior point guard Jose Ibarra paced the Bulls with 14 points, including three triples. Senior forward Khalil Brown (11 points, five rebounds) and 6-foot-5 junior center Ricci Love (10 points) also finished in double figures for the winners. Sophomore forward Jermaine Pierce, who scored 22 points in an overtime victory over Harry S Truman, totaled eight points and six caroms before fouling out in the final minute of play.
"It was really a great game," Caldwell said. "Give Glen Mills credit. Craig and his staff do a great job. I am really proud of my kids. All the kids played their hearts out. We came up a basket short.
"They are really hurting down there, but they gave us a great effort of 100 percent. This group; of seniors is a workhorse group on and off the court. They were the best they could be. With a good group, you want even more for them. It's difficult some times.
"I can't say enough about these seniors. I am prejudiced, but they are one of the hardest working teams around. They have nothing to be ashamed of. They gave it their best. All the kids are terrific, just terrific."
Tom Murphy grabbed 10 rebounds for the Rams, who outrebounded their foes 35-25.
Spring-Ford shot 16-for-42 (38 percent) from the floor and 16-for-26 at the free throw line with 22 turnovers due to the Bulls' pressure defense. The hosts shot 9-for-16 at the foul line in the first half.
Glen Mills shot 21-for-47 (45 percent) from the floor and 10-for-17 at the stripe with 19 miscues.