ROYERSFORD >> Upper Perkiomen got the feel-good storylines out of the way last season.
The Tribe ended a five-year, 72-game losing-streak in the Pioneer Athletic Conference and eventually went on to earn a berth in the District One Class 5A playoffs last winter.
Now, they’re poised to do something much more substantial this year.
Upper Perk continued its unbeaten run through the PAC to start the season, posting a 58-49 win over host Pope John Paul II on Tuesday night.
With the win, Upper Perk improves to 4-0 in the PAC (9-1 overall), now in the midst of a nine-game winning streak after dropping their season-opener to North Penn. PJP (3-1 PAC) drops to 4-5 overall, having now lost three straight.
Senior guard Ryan Kendra has been a contributor with the Tribe all throughout his four years with Upper Perk. Having played through the lean seasons of his early years makes the Indians’ current run all the more satisfying.
“Coming through the ranks my freshman and sophomore seasons when we couldn’t win a game,” said Kendra, “to being 4-0 like we are right now, it’s special. This year’s team is so much different from the teams we had two years ago.”
Tuesday’s game was a senior showcase for Upper Perk as Kendra finished with 15 points for his eighth double-digit outing of the season while senior point guard Liam Boyle scored a game-high 18 with four 3-pointers. Will Walker and Tyler Whary battled for eight points apiece.
The win was hardly an easy one for the Tribe as the Golden Panthers battled and clawed their way back throughout, utilizing their full-court press defense. PJP led once on the night — when Vincent Viney finished above the rim for the game’s opening basket — before Upper Perk took the lead on consecutive baskets from Kendra and Walker.
PJP guards Dan Cirino and Aidan McCarthy finished with 13 points apiece, the latter hitting a pair of 3-pointers.
Trailing 36-24 midway through the third, Pope John Paul II put together a 9-1 run to make it 37-33 before Kendra closed out the quarter with a last-second lay-up to take a six-point lead into the fourth.
The fourth quarter was all Upper Perk. Whary battled for a well-contested finish in the paint moments in, then finished an and-one basket a few minutes later as UP used a 12-1 run to pull away.
“We dug ourselves an early hole,” said PJP head coach Mike Rafferty. “Every time it looked like we were gonna claw out of it, they made a nice little run themselves. They buried us, especially late.”
Similar to Upper Perk’s current status, Pope John Paul II is putting behind them the miserable memories that come with a winless season in PAC play last winter, Rafferty’s first season at the helm. The Golden Panthers’ 3-0 start in league play was something to hang their hat on, but there’s still plenty ahead.
“We’ve been trying to stress to them over the break, ‘Let’s not be happy with just being 3-0,’” he said. “It’s a good feeling, we’ve had more wins than we did all of last year, but no need to get complacent. Every night in this league will be tough, we’ve got to be ready to battle.”
Coming off a 12-11 finish last season, head coach Jared Krupp and Upper Perk are looking to keep their current run going.
“It’s great for the kids, great for the community,” said Krupp. “Tuesday and Friday nights are basketball nights — kind of like football night. It’s great to see. There’s a lot of energy within these guys. We’ve invested so much time together and it’s great to see all of this come to fruition.”
Nothing to celebrate just yet, though.
“We’ve got a lot of work to go still, we know that,” he added.
Take the Liberty
Both teams will be up to a tall task when PAC divisional crossover play begins next week. The Golden Panthers and Indians are each slated to face off against defending league champ Perkiomen Valley, runner-up Spring-Ford and Owen J. Roberts in the span of a week.
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