POTTSGROVE >> It’s no secret that Pottsgrove is playing its best ball right now with its most important player back in the mix.
Junior guard Manny Clark, the team’s key offensive facilitator, has the Falcons hitting their stride entering the final stretch of the regular season.
On Tuesday night, Clark and the Falcons picked up a key 82-66 win over Phoenixville to climb into the No. 2 seed in the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s shuffled-up Frontier Division.
Clark missed an early portion of the season in December when his family took a trip to visit his grandmother in Panama. Then last week, he was hobbled by an ankle injury that forced him to sit out a non-conference game against Springfield-Delco.
“We were starting to click in the beginning of the year,” said Clark, who has missed six games total on the season, “but the whole team not being there messed up everything.
“Now, I think we’re starting to click again. Guys know what it means and what it takes to win games at this point in the season.”
Senior big man Jason Hien scored a game-high 22 points while Clark and senior guard Jayden Blakey added 15 points apiece in Tuesday night’s win. With their third straight win, Pottsgrove improves to 5-4 in the Frontier Division (6-6 PAC) and 10-10 overall. Phoenixville, meanwhile, drops to 5-4 in the Frontier (5-7 PAC) and 8-13 overall.
“I think we’ve hit a stride right now,” said head coach Jack Flanagan, whose team has won eight of nine. “We’re clicking — we’re getting the stops when we need them and we’re converting down on the other end. I’m super-pleased with the effort.”
Hien dominated the glass throughout the night, finishing a pair of put-backs in the third quarter where he scored his team’s first seven points. The senior forward’s presence in the paint opened up space around the rest of the floor leading to four 3-pointers from Blakey.
Clark, meanwhile, displayed his ability to create his own shot off the dribble. The speedster was a constant threat to pull up for a jumper, and also had some strong finishes in traffic despite his size.
“A year or two ago, I was 4-11 so I’m used to playing small,” said Clark, “I’ve grown a lot since then — I’m 5-6, 5-7 now. I think that’s definitely helped my game develop.”
Pottsgrove led from the start during a six-point outburst late in the first quarter, which ended with a 19-15 lead. From there, the Falcons were dominant, outscoring Phoenixville in each quarter, including a 23-15 advantage in the third.
Although the result doesn’t quite tell it, Phoenixville brought out a high-pressure defense that wreaked some havoc in the final stages of the game.
Junior guard Colton Brown scored eight of his team-high 14 points in the fourth quarter while senior forward Brendan Jenkins finished with 13 points on the night. Sophomore guard Steven Hamilton scored 11 while Zion Small finished with 10.
“We were making some pushes, making some runs late,” said Phoenixville head coach Eric Burnett. “For a minute down the stretch, we got it close, but we couldn’t pull even. We didn’t finish the fight.”
Phoenixville will be back in action Thursday night with a must-win matchup against Upper Merion to keep their PAC playoff hopes alive.
“It starts in practice,” said Burnett. “We’re at our best when our practices are good and by in large our practices have been really good. Hopefully we can put in a good one tomorrow and get this thing right.”
Pottsgrove returns to action with a makeup game against West Chester Henderson on Thursday night, then takes on Pope John Paul II on Saturday night. A win against the Golden Panthers would ensure the Falcons a trip to the PAC playoffs while a loss could put them right back where they were at the start of the week — with their playoff hopes riding on the rest of the league.
“We still have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Flanagan.
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