POTTSTOWN >> Despite failing behind by as much as 18 points early in the fourth quarter, Spring-Ford continued to fight their way back until the bitter end.
But they made one mistake: they kept letting the ball find the hands of Methacton junior Dave Duda.
In the end, that would be the difference in Tuesday night’s Pioneer Athletic Conference championship game as Duda’s irresistible 38 points propelled Methacton to a 72-60 victory and their first PAC title since 2015.
The high-scoring junior guard’s performance featured a flawless 13-for-13 mark from the foul line, where he played the cooler time and time again to the Rams’ comeback hopes.
“Yeah, that’s the first time I’ve ever put up a number like 13-13 from the line,” said a beaming Duda after cutting down the net at Pottstown High School. “My dad’s gonna be pretty excited about that one.”
The elder Duda wasn’t the only one, as a jam-packed Methacton student section flooded onto the floor to watch the championship celebration after a tightly-contested matchup.
Maybe it’s something about the gym at Pottstown’s Strom Gymnasium: Duda similarly caught fire in the regular season at Pottstown on Jan. 9 with a career-high 44 points.
Methacton (18-7) would take control of the game for good late in the third quarter, when Duda single-handedly turned a 39-36 advantage into a 14-point lead, nailing a trio of 3-pointers on consecutive possessions before putting back his own rebound in the quarter’s final minute. In all, the junior would account for 16 consecutive Methacton points in a stretch that extended to the early fourth quarter.
“It’s an incredible feeling, especially in an environment like this,” he said of the zone he found in the second half. “In the first half, I was off (1-for-8) from three, but my teammates gave me a boost at halftime, told me to keep shooting.”
Sophomore center Jeff Woodward was again dominant inside with 17 points and 19 rebounds.
“When we start going inside-outside, we’re tough to defend,” said Methacton coach Jeff Derstine in the understatement of the night. “I thought we did well to establish the inside game early, then we got Dave going.”
The first half saw both teams set a frenetic pace, neither side taking a timeout or even coming close to the foul limit. Austin Hokanson put up Spring-Ford’s first nine points in staking the Rams to a 9-7 lead, but Methacton sandwiched 3s by Duda and senior Noah Kitaw (11 points, 8 rebounds) around two tough inside buckets by Woodward, going on a 13-2 run to take the largest lead of the first half at 20-11.
Spring-Ford (15-10) would battle back behind Noah Baker’s versatile offensive game to re-take the lead at 23-22 before a Woodward putback dunk put the Warriors back in control, igniting a 9-0 run.
Methacton went into the break up to six, thanks in large part to the Duda/Woodward combination, each putting up a dozen points before halftime.
It set the stage for Duda’s aforementioned second-half explosion. By the fourth quarter, Spring-Ford dialed up the defensive pressure, forcing several turnovers in the backcourt and cutting Methacton’s lead to five.
But they just couldn’t keep the red-hot Duda off the line, where he accumulated Methacton’s final eight points.
“We know that all year long, Spring-Ford’s playing all four quarters, making some late comebacks,” said Derstine. “We needed to knock down some free throws, and obviously, Dave going 13-for-13 was huge for us.”
Baker and Hokanson were outstanding for Spring-Ford, tallying 24 and 23 points respectively in the losing effort.
The Rams’ postseason continues Friday night when they host North Penn in a District 1 Class 6A opening-round game.
Meanwhile, Methacton has limited time to celebrate the title, as PAC rival Perk Valley visits on Friday in another 6A matchup.
“Postgame, bus ride home… yeah, we’re gonna enjoy it,” admitted Derstine. “But we know it’s gonna take a top-notch effort Friday against Perk Valley, so we’ll be ready.
“This team’s good at bouncing back though. We know tomorrow’s a brand-new day.”
But no one on the Methacton side would argue with a repeat of Tuesday night.