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Upper Merion beats Pottstown on Chris Clark’s buzzer-beater

Upper Merion's Chris Clark, center, is congratulated by Austin Moucer (15) as KJ Pugh, left, celebrates. Clark scored the game-winning basket in the final seconds of a 57-55 win over Pottstown Tuesday night. (Austin Hertzog/Digital First Media)

POTTSTOWN >> Upper Merion won a Pioneer Athletic Conference Frontier Division instant classic, 57-55, over Pottstown Tuesday night at Strom Gymnasium at Pottstown High School.

The Vikings called timeout with 40 seconds left and the game tied at 55 to set up the final shot. They cycled the ball around and in the final seconds Austin Moucer found Chris Clark cutting into the lane and Clark finger-rolled the game-winner into the basket with no time remaining for the 57-55 win.

“Hold the ball,” Upper Merion coach Jason Quenzer said of his message to his team going into the final 40 seconds. “Have the last shot. Have the last say. Don’t give them an opportunity to get it back … We executed at the end of the half and then the end of the game. It was nice to see.”

“We became very selfish,” Pottstown coach Cal Benfield said about losing a 33-21 halftime lead and 42-34 lead after three quarters. “We didn’t defend. They spread us out and beat us right to the basket. We didn’t rebound. They did everything right and we did everything wrong. We got a little too comfy, too cozy, and we gave them confidence. If you’re going to give a team confidence that late in the game, they’re going to beat you.”

Neither team led by more than four points after Upper Merion tied the game at 45 with 4:50 to play.

Nick Shepperd had four points and two key steals for the Vikings down the stretch while Anthony Brown was doing the heavy-lifting for the Trojans with nine of his game-high 21 points coming in the final eight minutes.

The PAC rivals traded runs in the first half. Upper Merion went on a 10-0 spurt at the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second to turn a 12-6 deficit into a 16-12 lead. Pottstown immediately responded with a 21-3 run to take a 33-19 lead right before halftime. Upper Merion scored a basket of the final possession to send it to the break with Pottstown ahead, 33-21.

It was Pottstown native KJ Pugh who helped the Vikings turn the game around.

Pugh lived in Pottstown his whole life until last year and helped Upper Merion beat his old school by scoring 14 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. Ten points and nine rebounds came in the second half.

“I know a lot of the kids at this school here,” Pugh said of Pottstown, “teachers, even the principal. So I’m well-known in this school.

“It was a good win. It was a friendly win. It was like coming back home again. Upper Merion and Pottstown are like two homes and Upper Merion saved me.”

“(KJ) is the man,” Quenzer said. “I had no idea who he was. He came in to open gyms. He’s the nicest kid ever. He’s always the guy who’s saying, ‘This is a family. Thank you so much.’ He appreciates an opportunity to come play. I’m like, ‘I appreciate you!’”

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