POTTSTOWN >> During the month of January, Methacton and Owen J. Roberts’ boys’ basketball teams each racked up a victory over the other. OJR’s 11-point win on January 3 was answered in a resounding 25-point Methacton blowout on January 30.
So when OJR won a three-way tiebreaker to get the last berth in the Pioneer Athletic Conference playoffs, both equally matched sides knew it would come down to execution – who could make more shots, more plays, and play better defense.
Thus, it was Methacton who would claim Tuesday night’s rubber match, 56-34, in the PAC opening round playoff game contested at Pottstown High School. The Warriors relied on a devastating inside-outside approach, knocking down seven 3s in the game while shooting over 50 percent from the field.
Junior Dave Duda led the Warriors with 20 points, 12 of them coming in a decisive third quarter that saw Methacton turn a tight, three-point game into a 16-point margin by quarter’s end.
Sophomore Brett Eberly scored all 11 of his points in the first half, while his classmate Jeff Woodward recorded a double-double with 14 points and 20 rebounds.
“From the middle of the season, until now, we practice that inside-outside approach,” said Duda. “Jeff gets every board we need, and it’s on the rest of us to knock down the shots on the outside.”
The victory sends Methacton (16-7) into Friday night’s semifinals against Frontier Division champion Upper Perkiomen – two teams who did not meet during the regular season. The Warriors are following the proven “get hot at the right time” strategy, riding a five-game winning streak.
“Earlier this year, we were just trying to figure things out,” said Methacton coach Jeff Derstine. “David played big minutes last year, as did Jeff – but other kids were getting their first taste of varsity minutes.
“Now, it’s started to click. We’re recognizing in each game the easiest plays to make. Do we have an advantage inside? Or are their openings on the outside?”
Eberly’s shooting combined with Woodward’s inside presence on both ends to push Methacton to an early 12-4 lead. By the quarter’s end, the sophomore guard racked up a trio of 3s, while Woodward accounted for four points off putbacks. OJR closed to 14-11 before Methacton re-opened the lead to eight by the close of the quarter.
The second stanza featured an exchange of 8-0 runs by both sides, Methacton first opening a 14-point lead on a three-point play from Dave Duda followed by a Noah Kitaw 3. Shyheed May and Sean Praweckyj responded with threes for the Wildcats to cut the halftime margin to six.
Throughout the opening half, Woodward dominated on the inside with eight boards and three blocks, ensuring no second chances for the Wildcats.
“On the defensive end, I think I can (reassure) my teammates with my rebounding,” the sophomore center said. “We play tough defense, force a bad shot – you don’t have to worry about them getting a second chance, because Marc (Girardo, who had nine rebounds) or I are gonna take care of it.
“On the offensive end, our top shooting threats aren’t afraid to let it fly, because we’ve got a good chance to get a second shot if the first one doesn’t go.”
After the half, Duda caught fire, tossing in 12 of his game-high 20 points in the third, single-handedly opening a six-point Warrior lead to 17 by the early fourth quarter with 11 straight points. Woodward continued to control the boards, causing a shift in the OJR offense. The Wildcats wouldn’t attempt a free throw until the 7:19 mark of the fourth quarter. As a team, Methacton limited OJR to a 14-for-46 clip from the field.
For OJR (14-9), the loss ends their PAC season, but the team awaits news of its’ first-round opponent in the District 1 Class 6A playoffs, slated to begin February 16. While Tuesday’s loss hurt their chances of hosting a game (seeds 9-16 host opening-round games, OJR came into Tuesday ranked 14th), coach Kevin Kirby says hopes remain high.
“We just didn’t make shots tonight,” he said, “but I still think our chances are strong to host a game. It would certainly be great for the kids. But upsets can happen, and if they do, we’ll be ready to go on the road.”
Praweckyj and May tied for the Wildcats’ team lead with 11.
For Methacton – ranked 10th in 6A coming into Tuesday – the possibility of a first-round bye looms if results fall their way (top-8 receive byes.) But no matter where the Warriors match up in the playoffs, districts or otherwise, Woodward likes their chances.
“When we’re clicking, the sky is the limit,” said Woodward. “You can match the inside, or match us on the outside – but not many teams can do both. The day before every game, Coach writes the keys to the game on the board. Almost every time, “inside out” is at the top of the list.”
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