PHILADELPHIA >> Perkiomen Valley’s foray into the District 1 playoffs as a No. 1 seed ended in three-straight losses and an eighth-place finish.
Enough to break the psyche of a Viking squad that ran through competition this season?
Not so fast. It was just what they needed.
Playing with “a newfound chip on their shoulder” the Vikings raced out to an early lead before withstanding the comeback haymakers District 12 champ Roman Catholic dealt out en route to a 57-55 upset victory in the first round of the PIAA Boys Basketball Class 6A Championships Saturday night at St. Joseph’s Prep’s Kelly Field House.
The win snaps the Vikings’ three-game losing streak and also ends the title reign of Roman Catholic, which was vying for a three-peat after taking home the past two PIAA titles in the largest classification (previously 4A). Perkiomen Valley will face District 3’s third-place finisher Reading (winner over North Penn in PIAA first round) on Wednesday night at a site and time to be determined.
“It feels great (to get this win),” PV senior captain Justin Jaworski said. “Not one person believed we could do this except for us. Look, we’re a damn good team, too. Nobody should disrespect us. Once you’re in, anything can happen. This is a great feeling but we’re already focused on the next round.”
Jaworski finished with a game-high 27 points while Hogan Millheim’s toughness gave the Vikings an inside presence that had vanished in the previous three losses. The senior 6-1 center displayed finesse in the post, opting for headfakes before finishing for easy buckets. His tenacity and deceptiveness in the paint allowed the captain to finish with 12 points — eight coming in a back-and-forth fourth quarter.
“I knew going in that they just wanted to block shots,” Millheim said. “I knew every game that I had to keep pump-faking. I did it once and the guy flew right by me so I just kept sticking to the headfake to get shots.”
“He does an outstanding job of finishing with both hands, finishing through contact. His 12 points was an incredible 12 points for us,” coach Mike Poysden said of Millheim.
Sophomore Tyler Strechay showed up in a big way in the second quarter, his cuts inside the paint that ended up with good looks around the rim netting him six second-quarter points for a Vikings squad that led for the first 16 minutes, building a lead of 24-16 at the break.
“That’s what you need. You need guys to step up and make shots,” Poysden said. “I told him before the game to stay solid, you have a great shooting stroke on the ball. They’re going to come at you, you just have to stay solid.”
Roman Catholic’s Allen Betrand led the way with 19 points as the Cahillites overcame a sluggish first half and nearly came out with the win. Led by Betrand and JP Sanders, Roman Catholic whittled a nine-point third quarter deficit down to four entering the fourth and then took a 49-48 lead via D’kquan Davis’ tough and-1 midway through the final frame. However, Jaworski’s and-1 at the other end followed by Strechay’s two free throws gave PV a 53-49 advantage with less than two minutes remaining.
Following Davis’ tough bucket to cut it to 53-51, Millheim got himself open after a Roman Catholic defender slipped on the court and made an easy layup to make it 55-51. Betrand cut it back to two before Owens’ free throws with 10 seconds left sealed it and sent the Vikings into what seemed earlier as an improbable second-round matchup.
“After what was three really disappointing losses to Cheltenham, North Penn and Penn Wood, we had what I’d say was the best week of practice we’ve had all year,” Poysden said. “I can’t explain how it happened or why it happened or what it did, but I think there was a reshuffling of a world that we were climbing up again.
“I think for a long stretch of district play, posting those rankings made it even harder to get things done. Everyone knew (you were No. 1) and you’re going to get everyone’s best shot. We walked in this week back with the chip on the shoulder that we had in the preseason, the chip we had after our loss to OJR, and played the style of basketball we did all year.”