ROYERSFORD >> The symbolism was quite apparent.
After top-seeded defending champions Spring-Ford won the evening’s first semifinal over Pope John Paul II, they departed the court under the watchful eyes of the Methacton Warriors, the No. 3 seed preparing to take the court for their own semifinal contest.
Even as the Warriors took the court for their biggest game thus far this season, the Rams—undefeated in league play—loomed large.
But following its own 54-46 semifinal victory over Frontier Division Pottsgrove, Methacton has its chance to emerge from that considerable shadow once and for all when it takes on the top-seeded hosts Wednesday night for the PAC championship.
“It’s one of our biggest games of our careers,” said Methacton senior Sara Markley. “They were undefeated in the regular season, and we know we’ll be the underdogs, and they’ll have the crowd on their side… but it’s hard to describe just how much it would mean (to beat Spring-Ford.)”
An 18-0 run spanning almost a full quarter of play—from the middle of the first quarter to the five-minute mark of the second—was the key to Saturday night’s contest. Methacton built a double-digit lead and staved off repeated Pottsgrove rallies the rest of the way.
Nicole Timko’s 12 points led four double-figure scorers for the Warriors (20-4), who won their 11th contest in their past 12 outings—a streak interrupted only by a 48-35 setback on Jan. 17 at Spring-Ford. Spring-Ford also claimed a 41-36 decision at Methacton back in December.
Saturday’s nightcap featured arguably the two most pleasant surprises of the PAC girls’ basketball season between the sophomore-laden Frontier Division champion Falcons and the victorious Warriors, who feature only one senior in their starting lineup.
But that senior, point guard Abby Penjuke, was instrumental in turning the game in Methacton’s favor after an early flurry of three quick Sydney Mowery baskets staked Pottsgrove to a 8-3 lead. Penjuke corralled a loose ball under her own basket and drove coast-to-coast for a layup, igniting a 12-0 run that put the Warriors in front 15-8 after one quarter.
Sophomore Allie Hazlett’s entrance into the game occurred just as Methacton began their run—a point that wasn’t lost on her coaches or teammates. Hackett helped turn an early Pottsgrove rebounding edge into a decisive Methacton edge, tenaciously attacking the boards on both ends.
“She had huge minutes off the bench—gave us a spark,” said Markley. “Getting contributions from everyone is a key to our success.”
“Our kids worked hard on the boards, but they’re a strong team,” acknowledged Pottsgrove coach Mike Brendlinger. “We just couldn’t get out of that dry spell—it’s hard to come back after giving up [18 in a row.]”
When Pottsgrove finally broke the run after 18 straight for the Warriors, they did so on a Sierra Potts three that triggered an 8-0 rally of their own and brought the Falcons within five at the half. The Warriors’ advantage on the boards became apparent as the half wore on, as juniors Sydney Hargrove and Caroline Pellicano converted putbacks in the final minutes.
The ability of the Warriors to run their offense through numerous players proved crucial against Pottsgrove’s positional versatility. No matter who grabbed a rebound, Methacton wasn’t afraid to push the pace and get opportunities in transition rather than waiting for a backcourt player to collect the ball.
“It’s always a full team effort,” said Penjuke.
“I was a forward until this year, and Coach Kaminski told me I’d be playing point guard. We all have that versatility—it’s one of my favorite things about this team.”
Meanwhile, Mowery and Potts kept the Falcons within striking distance, the latter with her second three-pointer to bring the contest within five towards the end of the third quarter.
A quiet start to the final stanza was broken when Penjuke hit Sydney Tornetta with a beautiful pass on a back cut to open the Warriors’ lead back up to nine, then wrestled a rebound away from a Pottsgrove defender to claim the first double-digit lead of the second half with 4:40 to play.
Two quick jumpers from Mowery brought Pottsgrove within four, but Nicole Timko’s second 3 of the evening gave Methacton a 49-42 lead with 2:12 to play. From there, the Warriors would salt the game away, controlling the ball and forcing Pottsgrove into desperation mode on offense.
Mowery led the way with 19 points for Pottsgrove, who fell to 17-6 on the season. The young squad now has ample time to prepare for their District 1 Class 5A opener, to be played at home on Feb. 19.
“We’ll probably take a couple days off to recoup. This game tonight was an important experience, playing in a game where every possession was so important,” added Brendlinger.
But it’ll be the Warriors getting their third shot at Spring-Ford Wednesday after one near-miss in the early season and another setback in January’s return match. The five-point Rams win on Dec. 13 is the closest any PAC team has come to upending the league leaders.
Methacton also has the opportunity to pull off the rare double title, with both its’ boys and girls squads qualifying for next week’s league finals. For seniors like Markley and Penjuke, to see a Methacton claim both titles would be a highlight of their final year at the school.
“Hopefully we (the girls’ team) can all be here to support the guys on Tuesday,” said Penjuke. “For our class, it would be incredible [to win both titles.] I can’t imagine that’s ever happened at Methacton—definitely not in our time.
“But we’re focused on doing our jobs against Spring-Ford. They play at such a high pace, and they’ll have lots of fans here, so we need to stay calm and play our game.”
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