BENSALEM >> Sean Yoder wasn’t going to let it happen again.
A few weeks back, when the Pennridge boys basketball team clashed with Abington in the SOL title game at Bensalem, the Ghosts were able to take the ball out of Yoder’s hands down the stretch as they rallied to win. In the District 1 semifinals, Abington again went out of its way to limit Yoder’s impact.
That wasn’t the case on Wednesday. Yoder simply wasn’t going to allow it.
With Yoder leading the charge on defense and a withering team effort on defense, Pennridge topped Abington for the first time in four tries, defeating the Ghosts 55-51 in the second round of the PIAA 6A playoffs at Bensalem.
“Today was a little different, it was me being aggressive,” Yoder, who scored a game-high 26 points, said. “Whether it was looking for my shot, looking for other good shots or grabbing the ball and trying to get to the free throw line, whatever it was. I wanted to have the ball in my hands to make that decision and try to get my guys open.”
Pennridge (25-5), now in the state quarterfinals for the first time, faces Methacton on Saturday. The Warriors made history of their own by defeating Boys’ Latin 93-71 to advance to their first quarterfinal game.
Sure, Abington (28-2) had won the first three meetings between the teams, but they weren’t easy victories. Senior forward Jon Post said the 0-3 record didn’t weigh on his or any of his teammates going into Tuesday’s battle.
Instead, Post said the Rams felt they were good enough to win as long as they trusted each other and learned from the mistakes that did them in in the prior meetings.
Abington scored the game’s first bucket and wouldn’t lead again after a four-point Rams spurt in response. Pennridge’s defense, specially its’ packed-in 2-3 zone and active hands, frustrated the three-time District 1 champion Ghosts, but Abington also couldn’t buy a bucket.
The Ghosts shot just 7-of-29 from 3-point territory, with six of those makes coming during a frantic fourth-quarter try at a rally.
“It happens, man, it’s a bad time to go cold and we couldn’t make shots,” Abington coach Charles Grasty said. “They did a good job in that zone and taking away our inside presence.
“They did an excellent job, they have a great team, they do what they do well and they’re tough to beat when they’re hitting shots and you’re not.”
Rams coach Dean Behrens credited junior Trent Fisher for his work as the primary man guarding Dixon while Yoder gave props to the two guards at the top of the zone, whether it was Luke Yoder and Jon Dominic or Pat and Jack Gillespie, for chasing the ball back and forth as the Ghosts tried to find a crack in the defense.
As Post noted, Dixon was going to get his numbers but Yoder cautioned the Rams couldn’t let the 6-foot-7 forward be the one who beat them.
“When it comes to rebounds and stuff, Dixon is going to get his, he’s a big kid and he’s hard to stop,” Post said. “But if they tried to force it in, which they did a few times, we could get steals and that turned into points on our end of the floor.”
Abington saw an era come to a close on Wednesday. The loss snapped a 26-game winning streak for the Ghosts and it was their first loss to a team from Pennsylvania this season. It also concluded the careers of the team’s large senior class headlined by Eric Dixon and Lucas Monroe.
Dixon led Abington with 21 points in his final high school game before heading to Villanova but again battled double, triple and sometimes quadruple teams every time he caught the ball. Monroe, who scored 10 points, was likewise swarmed with Rams coach Dean Behrens saying his team was committed to keeping the Penn recruit from crushing them on the glass yet again.
With Dixon, the program’s all-time leading scorer, Monroe, a 1,000 point scorer and second all-time in assists along with solid all-around players like Darious Brown, Maurice Henry and several more seniors leaving, it’s the start of a new age at Abington. But this group’s accomplishments won’t soon be forgotten.
“It was excellent, we did a lot of fun things on the court, we did a lot of good things in our community, it’s not just about playing basketball,” Grasty said. “These guys have been out in the community doing things with the kids who look up to them, they’re doing things in the school. They’ve made tremendous names for themselves and not just on a basketball court.
“They’ve done a lot more than people see and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Pennridge led 12-6 after the first quarter and managed a 24-18 lead at the half thanks to a 5-0 spurt to end the second quarter after Abington had cut the lead to one. The Rams kept it up through the third quarter, stretching their lead to as many as 10 points before taking a nine-point edge into the final eight minutes.
Well aware that Abington had erased an eight-point fourth quarter lead in the same gym in the SOL title game, Yoder was ready to rise to the occasion.
Dixon hit a three, cutting the Rams lead to five and getting the sizable Abington fan contingent back into the game. A few minutes later, Joey Brusha connected on a three to cut the Rams’ lead to one at 41-40 with 3:30 to play.
“We’ve become very familiar with them, they’re familiar with them, look, they’re a great team and extremely well-coached, a class program that’s won the district the last three times,” Behrens said. “They’re a tremendous representation of what high school basketball is all about. We just did maybe a couple more things that helped us.”
Yoder came right back off the Brusha three and hit a runner in the lane and after a bucket by Monroe, Yoder hit 7-of-8 at the foul line to push a one-point margin into an eight-point cushion. This was the program’s all-time leading scorer going and getting the ball when it mattered most.
Those free throws? Once the first two went down, they weren’t that big of a deal.
“Once you make a couple, you feel confident in yourself going back to the foul line and you want to be in that situation,” Yoder said. “I know my guys wanted me to be in that situation too as the leader of the team. I’m not going to shy away from that moment as a senior, I’m going to go take it and grab it.”
Monroe picked up his fifth foul with 1:15 left, taking the Ghosts’ lead ballhandler out of the game. Yoder made it hurt right away with two free throws and the Rams made it hurt later in the quarter with a couple turnovers that helped put the game away.
“I think we tired Dixon out, I thought he looked exhausted at the end of the game,” Post said. “Monroe fouling out was huge for us. He runs their offense so taking him out of the game, they were a little discombobulated and we were able to take advantage and score a few points.”
Even after Yoder’s personal 9-2 run, the Ghosts weren’t done. Manir Waller canned a three to cut the lead to 52-48, with Yoder answering with a pair at the line.
Waller buried another three right after, but Luke Yoder split a pair at the stripe with 3.8 on the clock for a four-point edge and when time ran out, the Rams finally celebrated.
“I get to coach them again, all 18 guys, that’s what’s cool,” Behrens said. “It’s like the NCAA team tournament, the state tournament in Pennsylvania at the end of every game, that’s it for somebody. You have to say bye to seniors and that’s hard.
“They’re never going to get to play together as a team again and that’s what makes it so final. You see that raw emotion.”
PENNRIDGE 55, ABINGTON 51
PENNRIDGE 12 12 14 17 – 55
ABINGTON 6 12 11 22 – 51
Pennridge: Sean Yoder 6 14-16 26, Luke Yoder 2 1-2 5, Jon Dominic 1 2-4 6, Trent Fisher 3 0-0 6, Jon Post 4 3-5 11, Jack Gillespie 1 0-0 3. Totals: 17 20-27 55.
Abington: Eric Dixon 7 6-11 21, Manir Waller 3 0-0 8, Darious Brown 1 0-0 3, Lucas Monroe 5 0-0 10, Joey Brusha 3 0-0 9. Totals: 19 6-11 51.
3-pointers: P – Gillespie; A – Brusha 3, Waller 2, Brown, Dixon.
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