Penncrest pulls off improbable finish

SPRINGFIELD — A team that blows a 12-point fourth quarter lead isn’t supposed to win. A team that doesn’t hit a field goal in overtime isn’t supposed to win. The Penncrest Lions were that team.

They still won.

“We stayed together,’ junior big man AJ Taylor said.

Penncrest went 14-of-14 from the free throw line in the extra session and downed Springfield, 58-53, Friday in a Class AAAA District One tournament playback. The Lions advance to play Academy Park in a play-in for a spot in the PIAA state tournament Tuesday. It was inches, and perhaps a decision, from not being there.

Down 37-25 after the third quarter, Kevin McCormick and Springfield (15-10) upped the tempo and shot the lights out to turn the game around. The hosts were up 44-41 with 13.7 seconds left after Jordan Collins hit two free throws. Fifty seconds before that, Penncrest’s Mike Doyle missed a 1-and-1 that could have tied the game.

With his team down to one last shot, this time, he didn’t miss.

Doyle sunk a 3-pointer from the top of the key that bounced several times off the rim before falling through the net. There were 2.4 seconds left. The game was tied. Penncrest was alive.

“We just felt we had to calm down, we were so helter-skelter,’ Penncrest coach Mike Doyle said. “Once we got to overtime, we took a deep breath and we just felt confident.’

Springfield coach Kevin McCormick contemplated fouling on that decisive possession. Freshman point guard Kyle Long asked if they should. But the elder McCormick was worried about what Taylor, all 6-foot-8 of him, might do off a rebound. He took his chances with defending the 3.

“He made a shot fake, stepped up, hit a shot that might have hit the rim on all four sides,’ the veteran coach explained. “But it was a big shot.’

Taylor had 14 points, and hit 8-of-9 from the line, to lead Penncrest (15-10). Nolan Carroll also had 14, plus hit all six of his overtime free throw attempts. Drew Hanna had 10, Doyle and Nick Ladd both had eight points — all three of them each had two 3-pointers.

Outside of Taylor, all of those players are seniors. Their calmness and maturity made the difference. A younger team, a less experienced team, could have crumbled under the weight of a raucous crowd and a blown lead. This bunch did not.

“It’s a testament, they’ve been through it,’ the elder Doyle said. “So they’re used to the pressure and understand it. It’s a program win.’

McCormick had 20 points, and six 3-pointers, to front Springfield. All of it came during the second half and overtime. His layup and trey jump-started an 8-0 run to begin the fourth quarter. Another trey of his made it a two-point deficit with 2:10 left in regulation.

It wasn’t enough. Instead, despite a valiant effort in the fourth quarter, Springfield was denied a chance to go to states for the first time since 2010.

“They fought back,’ the elder McCormick said. “That’s what it was, the energy.’

Instead, it will be the Lions. The No. 28 seed in this tournament was never supposed to be here. Now, they are one win from their first state trip in six years. Strong 3-point shooting helped them dominate the first half (they led 26-13 at the break). Resiliency and fundamentals helped them survive the latter stages of the game.

But much like their upset victory last week over Penn Wood in the first round of this tournament, it came down to free throw shooting. In that game, the Lions did not hit a field goal in overtime. They still won. They did it again Friday.

“Got a little Herb McGee in us, man,’ the elder Doyle said with a laugh.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply