Abington answers Pennridge’s challenge in District 1-AAAA quarters

EAST ROCKHILL — Maybe it was in the magic fingers of the well-traveled Abington student section.

Whatever the reason was the Galloping Ghosts were dialed in from the foul line Friday night at Pennridge. The Rams could have used some of those friendly bounces, as they could not buy a basket from the line. It was the difference in the District 1-AAAA boys basketball quarterfinal contest.

The sixth-seeded Ghosts shot 21-for-23 after the whistle blew, while the third-seeded Rams connected on 4-of-16 foul shots in a 58-49 win, sending coach Charles Grasty’s group back to Temple for the semifinals.

The Rams play the loser of Pennsbury-Methacton in the playback portion of districts, to settle which seed they will take into the state tournament.

“As coaches we were concerned all year,’ Pennridge coach Dean Behrens said. “Against a team as good as Abington, you cannot miss foul shots like that. Once you miss one or two, sometimes it is more mental than anything.’

With a sold-out crowd begging the Rams to close out a game they worked so hard to grab a lead in, the free throw shooting finally bit them and bit them hard. It has been a struggle for the majority of the season, but it was yet to cost the Rams a game. Not even the offensive rebounding of Joe Molettiere or the acrobatic lay-ups from junior Danny Long could combat 25 percent from the stripe.

“Joe Molettiere rebounded the heck out of the basketball,’ Behrens said. “It propelled our guys to realize we can rebound with this team, we can play with this team.’

Molettiere managed 12 points and a dozen rebounds, but with a third foul early in the third quarter he took a seat. However, the Rams went on a run with their senior sidelined. Long grabbed a offensive board and his putback earned him two of his team-high 16 points to give Pennridge its first lead of the game — a 38-37 advantage heading into the final quarter.

“We started going to the basket strong and we had the momentum in the third quarter,’ Behrens said. “We had a fighter’s chance only down less than 10 at the half.’

The Ghosts only hit two field goals in the fourth quarter, but they were big shots. Senior Matt Penecale drained his fourth three-pointer of the night, cutting the Rams’ lead from seven to four with five minutes to go. Then senior Jake Porter hit a three-pointer from the corner with under two minutes to play, giving the Ghosts a 50-47 lead — a lead they would never let go.

“We just started making the right passes,’ Porter said. “It all came together. I’m set up in the corner on that play, Amir got by his man, defense collapsed and I was open. As of late I have been struggling and to make that one at the end of the game feels great.’

Porter is accustomed to being left wide open in the corner as defenses rightfully focus on penetrating Penecale and Amir Hinton. Penecale finished with 21 points and Hinton had a game-high 22 points. Senior Hinton was a perfect 10-for-10 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.

“We have two great guards in Amir and Matt,’ Porter said. “They can find the open man. Our main goal is to win a district title. We are going to be ready for whoever we play.’

The Rams will have to find a way to dust off the heartbreaker and see how far they go in the upcoming PIAA tournament. Pennridge achieved its goal by getting this far, but with a trip to Temple only two minutes away, the setback stings.This weekend will be a chance for the Rams to find a way to swallow the loss.

“If I was a spectator I would sit back and think Pennridge is a good as Abington,’ Behrens said. “I thank them for the opportunity to play to get to Temple. Never in my wildest dreams and we almost had it. Playbacks won’t be as intense, but our guys play hard all the time. But we are going to give them the weekend to rest.’

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