MIDDLETOWN >> When the PIAA District 1 Class 5A brackets were released on February 12, the last team Penncrest coach Mike Doyle wanted to see was Harriton — and for good reason.
The last time Harriton traveled to Penncrest, the Rams defeated the hosts while scoring 69 points — a season high allowed by the Lions.
“You are the No. 3 seed and you have to play a team that beat you in your home gym by eight points two weeks ago,” Doyle said. “It was the one team we did not want to play but the draw tells you how strong the Central League is. Jesse (Rappaport) does a great job with his team.”
Rappaport, the Harriton coach, responded in kind.
“We talked about it. Coach Doyle and I are friends,” Rappaport said. “We didn’t want them and they didn’t want us but this is the way it is. It’s a point system and you play who is front of you.”
With 10 days to prepare for their district opener, the Lions turned their focus to defense, which turned out to be the right approach in holding off a game Harriton squad, 51-44, in front of a raucous home crowd.
“It means a lot,” said junior guard Tyler Norwood, who finished with a game-high 23 points. “We wanted to get the seniors to Temple University (site of district semifinals) before they go out and we got one step closer tonight.”
“Our key tonight was to guard,” said senior Justin Ross, who chipped in 14 points. “We gave up the most points all season the last time we played Harriton so we knew if we played defense we would be fine.”
With the win, Penncrest (17-7) will host 11th-seeded Wissahickon Saturday, after the Trojans’ 67-48 upset of No. 6 seed Phoenixville.
The start of the game featured a bit of nerves on both sides, with both teams trying to gain a measure of composure.
Midway through the first quarter, Harriton’s Kevin Sanchez gave his team a 10-6 lead following a traditional three-point play.
With the Rams holding an 11-8 lead with time winding down in the first quarter, the Lions received a big boost from Norwood who buried a 24-footer from the wing at the buzzer to knot the game at 11 and give him his first points of the game.
“That shot was big for me and the team,” said Norwood. “It helped me relax and allow the game to come to me.”
Holding a three-point lead coming out of the locker room, Penncrest extended the advantage to 30-20 before Harriton came right back to get within three thanks to a Nick Bugbee 3-pointer to slice the lead to 32-29.
That would be the closest Harriton would get, as the Lions’ defense was able to contain the Rams the rest of the way.
“If you told me we could only play one home game to go play at Temple I would say roll it out,” said Doyle. “We are excited about this opportunity. We have had some great teams, some state tournament teams, made districts nine years in a row and never sniffed Temple. Now to say you are a game away from Temple is very exciting for this program and school.”