By Chris Masse
MILTON >> One by one, dejected Penn Wood players exited the locker room. The Patriots did not think their season would end this way. That they made huge strides this season was little consolation.
Penn Wood furiously fought Williamsport Saturday at Milton, but could never generate offensive consistency and lost their PIAA Class 5A tournament opener, 59-41. Still, as disappointed as the Patriots were, Saturday may have provided more of a beginning than an end. The Patriots reached the state tournament for the first time since 2011 and laid a foundation that could again make them a perennial District 1 title contender.
The loss stings, but Penn Wood sure went on an impressive journey.
“The kids put in a lot of work and it was great to see them get rewarded for all their hard work,” Penn Wood coach Matt Lindeman said. “They’ve come a long way just in a year from where we were last year. It was a lot of fun and I’m proud of all the hard work and success they had this year.”
Williamsport (21-4) won its 14th straight game and the District 2-4 champions advanced to Wednesday’s second round against William Allen. Penn Wood finished a resurgent season and laid the foundation for future success. The Patriots captured the 2009 state championship and reached the state final a year later. But Penn Wood could not build on that success the next few seasons and finished a game shy of reaching the state tournament last year.
That is why what this Penn Wood team achieved could carry on beyond this season. The Patriots broke through again and this team that included five senior starters led the way.
“It was definitely a step in the direction of getting back to what the program was and they deserve a lot of credit for getting us back,” Lindeman said. “I hope the young guys learned why this team was successful this year. It wasn’t just because they were seniors. It was because they put in the work during the spring, summer and fall. They put in all that work to change their games, so I think that seed was planted with our young guys.”
Pernell Ghee scored a team-high 10 points and grabbed five rebounds. Jay Fitzgerald added five points and eight rebounds and Javon Lindsey-Terrell and Kenny Ngaima combined for eight rebounds off the bench.
Penn Wood led only once, when Ghee scored the game’s first basket. Williamsport opened a 12-point lead midway through the second quarter, but Penn Wood ended the first half on a 9-0 run and pulled within three at halftime. The Patriots frustrated Williamsport at times and allowed just one field goal during a 13-minute stretch that bridged the second and third quarters. Still, they never pulled closer than three and Williamsport took a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Despite Penn Wood forcing 22 turnovers, Williamsport pulled away in the fourth quarter, making 10 of 17 shots and building a 16-point lead with five minutes remaining. Stanley Scott, a Division I recruit, scored 19 points and dealt four of his five assists during the fourth quarter. Qayyim Ali (15 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists) added three more fourth-quarter assists and Rondell Carson (14 points, 11 rebounds) finished with a double-double as Williamsport delivered the knockout blow.
“At the end of the third quarter I said to the guys the bad news is we’re playing absolutely horrible basketball right now. The good news is we have a seven-point lead and if we figure it out and start doing what we’ve been programmed to do and conditioned to do all season long, this will be a blowout,” Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. “Some of our turnovers were just ridiculous. I don’t know if it was mental lapses or lack of focus or not paying attention to detail, but we were able to overcome a lot of those mistakes we made and still came out with an 18-point victory. So there’s a lot to be said about that.”
Penn Wood hung around until the fourth quarter and never lost its intensity. The Patriots simply struggled from the field all afternoon, making just 18 of 63 shots. The second quarter was the only time Penn Wood made more than 33 percent of its shots and it was held to 13 combined points in the first and third quarters. Some of that was because of Williamsport’s tenacious defense. Some was simply Penn Wood, playing three hours from home, having an off shooting night in front of a huge Williamsport crowd.
Ultimately, the Patriots didn’t really lose the game, Wood did not lose the game. The Millionaires won it. The Patriots continued battling until the end and tied one last bow on their breakthrough season.
“Give them credit because they made more plays and the ball didn’t bounce our way,” Lindeman said. “Effort wasn’t a problem. Execution and maybe a little more aggressiveness offensively at times could have been better. But it certainly wasn’t a lack of effort so we’ll go out this way with our kids playing hard.”