BENSALEM >> Manir Waller was a flash of pure kinetic energy.
From out of nowhere, the Abington junior flew into the Pennridge backcourt, stealing a pass and scoring a layup off it to cut the Rams’ lead to four. For three-and-a-half quarters, Pennridge had been the better team and had the Ghosts back against the ropes.
Then, Waller’s steal sparked something. Darius Brown, struggling all night, hit a couple huge threes and the team that prides itself on not getting rattled by the moment went from down eight to up four before finishing the comeback to top Pennridge 62-52 in the Suburban One League tournament championship Monday night at Bensalem.
“I felt like I had to give a lot of energy,” Waller said. “Coach asked me to bring that to the team because I’m one of the younger players, so it’s one thing I try to do on the offensive and defensive side. I tried to rebound, just do whatever my team needed me to do at the time.”
Abington (23-1) beat the Rams by 11 back on the second weekend of the season. Both teams have grown plenty since then and Pennridge (21-3) came in looking to win its first SOL tournament title and had the right game plan to do it.
The Rams played a 2-3 zone almost all game, packed in the back line, swarmed Eric Dixon and forced Abington’s supporting cast to be the difference. For 28 minutes, they couldn’t make Pennridge pay and with Sean Yoder and Jon Post playing superbly, the SOL Continental champion Rams seemed poised to make a statement.
“A few turnovers go their way and they got some fastbreak points, (Brown) hit two big threes for them and they ended up making their foul shots, which hurt us,” Post said. “Instead of doubling Sean, they started doubling some of our other guys. I have full faith in all my guys, but some things just went their way and they capitalized off that.”
The first half felt like a war of attrition with Pennridge picking up fouls left and right and going into the break with Luke Yoder carrying three personals while Post and Trent Fisher each had two from trying to guard Dixon down low. If there’s one thing the Rams have proven this year, it’s that they are a tough and resilient bunch.
Down just one at the break, Pennridge turned any frustrations it had at half into positive forward energy in the third quarter. Post returned a man possessed, scoring nine points in the third frame as part of an 11-0 run that turned a 29-23 deficit into 34-29 lead.
“All the guys in there wanted it more than anything,” Post said. “When you come up against a team like that with a bunch of great players who are know all throughout the state and even more than that, it gives you that extra little drive. We’re all out here to prove Pennridge can play with anyone and we didn’t come out on top, but I feel we can still do that.”
Post had a fourth-quarter shot blocked by Dixon, grabbed his own miss and put it back before he made a phenomenal pass to Yoder slicing down the lane for a 50-42 lead with 5:10 to go in the game. Dixon got a putback, Waller exploded for his steal and score and Dixon finished again inside to knot the game 50-50 before Post answered to give Pennridge the lead back briefly.
Then it was Brown, who had been off all game, who took over. The senior hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:59 left to put Abington back up, got a steal then hit another trey from almost the same spot, came up with another steal two possessions later and hit a pair of free throws to give the Ghosts a 56-52 lead.
“I was just telling myself to stay solid and remain confident in my shot,” Brown said. “Usually, it will fall but we always have a hard time in this gym for some reason. I just had to trust the work I put in.”
Brown said it was Abington’s defensive rotations that really changed things around. After Post’s bucket to go up 52-50, he and Yoder combined for just one shot attempt over the final five minutes as Abington worked to keep the ball away from them.
Ghosts coach Charles Grasty tells his team’s supporting players to be offended when opponents leave them open or dare those guys to be the difference in the game. It’s what sparked Waller, who had five of his nine rebounds in the fourth quarter, to become a whirl of energy defensively and jolt some life back into his team.
“It’s just hustle and anticipation,” Waller said. “When I saw the ball, I wanted it more than the other team and wanted to get the ‘W’ for my team.
“They try to say we’re not as good without (Dixon and Lucas Monroe) but Darius, Maurice and myself, we try to step up and prove we’re not a two-man show.”
Brown scored 13 for the second straight game and with his three makes from downtown, has hit 27 threes in the team’s last 11 games. His second trey came with a quick pause after the ball went through, signifying the important of the shot in the flow of the game.
“It’s our effort, the coaches can think up and give us plays all day but at the end of the day, it’s how hard we play,” Brown said. “Once we started playing harder, things started falling our way. We have a lot of persistence to do a lot of different things. We’ve seen all types of zones and presses and we’ve found our way through it.
“I felt very confident, I just wanted to keep my shooter’s mentality, I knew it wasn’t falling in the beginning but at some point, it had to fall for me.”
Both teams will now get some needed rest after earning first-round byes in the District 1-6A tournament. Pennridge finished up seven games in 11 days, but coach Dean Behrens feels plenty confident in his group, the No. 5 seed in the district.
“Our kids played their hearts out, they came out with a lot of energy and we didn’t back down to them,” Behrens said. “I felt positive that we were able to get out and be up, I think eight, at one point. We had a couple tough turnovers in the fourth quarter, Brown hit a couple big threes, you gamble a little bit and don’t go out on him. He hits the two threes and give him credit for doing it.”
Abington won the SOL tournament for the third time in the five years of the tournament (2015, 2017), capping a girls-boys sweep for the school on Monday. The top seed heading into districts, the Ghosts are now turning their sights on three-peating as District 1 champions.
“There was no panic,” Grasty said. “They trusted their hard work, they knew they could get shots and they knew they could get back in the game. Sometimes, you get down eight cross halfcourt and think there’s an eight-point shot, but they didn’t do that.”
Abington 62, Pennridge 52
Abington 9 15 14 24 – 62
Pennridge 9 14 23 6 – 52
Abington: Manir Waller 2 5-8 9, Maurice Henry 2 1-3 5, Darius Brown 4 2-2 13, Lucas Monroe 2 4-7 8, Eric Dixon 12 3-8 27. Totals: 22 15-28 62.
Pennridge: Jon Dominic 5 0-0 11, Sean Yoder 6 0-0 15, Trent Fisher 1 0-1 2, Jon Post 8 3-5 19, Jack Gillespie 1 0-0 3. Totals: 21 3-6 52.
3-pointer: A – Brown 3; P – Yoder 3, Dominic, Gillespie.
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