EAST ROCKHILL >> Pennridge went into the fourth quarter tied with Central Bucks East, and came out of that fourth quarter with the confidence it could win a tough, physical battle with another of the elite teams in the Suburban One League Continental Conference.
“In the fourth quarter, I thought we really dug in on ‘D,’” said senior Dan Long, who came up with back-to-back defensive rebounds in a key stretch for the Rams. “All of our guys were fighting through foul trouble. Max (Wagner) came in, had a big second half, hit two big shots. All year, guys have been stepping up — it’s still early, but I think we have a deep team.”
Long’s game-high 20 points and all-around effort led the way for the unbeaten Rams, who improved to a perfect 4-0 Friday night with a 58-46 win over previously-undefeated Central Bucks East.
A three by Wagner gave Pennridge a 39-36 lead to start the fourth, and the Rams would stay ahead the rest of the way in this SOL Continental opener.
It was the kind of game that saw Pennridge’s bench provide key contributions, on a night where both teams fiercely fought for control. Pennridge reserve Devon Balmer got banged up early, had his face bandaged up and was still diving for loose balls in the fourth quarter.
“We went through a lot of shorts and a lot of shirts tonight,” Rams coach Dean Behrens said. “A lot of blood.”
The Rams held on, and when the 6-foot-7 Wagner (12 points) drained his second three of the night to stretch the margin to 44-37 with 5 minutes, 39 seconds to go, the capacity crowd was roaring and Pennridge was on its way.
“I think it was like a dagger in East’s heart a little bit, and then Stephen Lowry hits a three (to make it 49-39) and it’s a four-possession game,” Behrens said. “That makes a world of difference.”
Long then came up with a steal and took it all the way in for two, extending the Pennridge lead to 51-39 with just 3:15 to go.
“High-intensity game — all four quarters,” Long said. “We know every conference game is gonna be a battle. Nothing’s guaranteed.”
Pennridge got out to an early 7-0 advantage, capped by a jumper by Long.
The senior guard’s four points, along with a three by Ryan Cuthbert, helped the Rams to a 12-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
CB East (3-1) came on in the second, going in front for the first time when 6-7 Blake Peterson (14 points) banked one in to make it 16-14. The Rams battled back, going up by one before a three by Justin O’Neil made it 22-20 East.
The Patriots increased their lead to 24-20 but then Long, dribbling down the clock, patiently waited and sank a three-point shot, slicing the margin to 24-23 at the break.
The two teams would go back and forth in the third, playing to a 36-36 tie before Pennridge took it over in the fourth.
“Dan really needed to kind of carry us a little bit, because we were a little bit depleated offensively (because of foul trouble), especially late in that second quarter,” Behrens said. “I thought Dan really stepped up.”
The Rams continue their run through the Continental with a road game at Central Bucks West Tuesday.
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