Carroll’s hot hand helps Penncrest realize its dream

SHARON HILL — A mere glimmer of a dream back in third grade became reality for the senior leaders of the Penncrest Lions.

“It just makes everything worth it,’ a glowing Mike Doyle said. “Since we were little, it was a goal.’

Behind the red-hot shooting of Nolan Carroll, Penncrest beat Academy Park, 49-37, Tuesday in a District One Class AAAA Tournament playback. The victory clinched the Lions’ first trip to the PIAA Tournament since 2010 and made a childhood dream a reality for this senior-laden squad.

Playing together since they were young, with Mike Doyle coaching his son and his friends, these Lions imagined this night. They imagined winning the Central League and winning districts. Neither of those things happened. But the ultimate goal — a state berth — did.

“It’s something you talk about and you talk about. It’s an ultimate goal,’ the elder Doyle said. “It’s just an unbelievable (accomplishment) for a 28 seed — and we thought we were better than that.’

After three victories in this tournament, all on the road, two in overtime, all against higher seeds, clearly, they are. Tuesday, the Lions did it behind a lights-out performance from Carroll and 12 key points from big man AJ Taylor. Carroll sunk six 3-pointers en route to a season-high 23. He hit three of those treys during the second quarter, turning a 9-2 first quarter deficit into a 20-13 halftime lead. He hit three more during the third quarter, giving the Lions (16-10) a 14-point advantage entering the final period.

Carroll had been ice cold lately. In his last five games, he was averaging a mere 6.6 points. He had just two 3-pointers in that span, compared to 59 in the previous 20 contests. Tuesday was a completely different story.

“It was crazy,’ Carroll said. “The past four games, I haven’t shot very well. … I just had to get my confidence back.’

He did that early in the second quarter. One trey let another, and another, and another. The final two came with an Academy Park defender in his face. The last one caused Knights coach Allen Brydges to throw his hands up in total frustration.

What could he do?

“Like a video game,’ the younger Doyle said. “I was like ‘˜Dude, run to the line, we will find you.’

In the fourth quarter, Academy Park (18-8) sent its full-court trap into high gear. It forced a ton of turnovers. It got within five with 3:04 left, but after Chandler Henry’s dunk finished off an effective trap break, that was it. Penncrest, even with the younger Doyle and his 102-degree fever, managed to survive.

Brydges figured Carroll was due for this kind of night. He knew he was struggling. He knew a shooter only needs one to get going. That, and the foul trouble Travis Smith saw himself in, did in his Knights.

Still, for a team with a strong junior class returning (including Jawan Collins, who dropped 13 points), there is plenty to be proud of. His seniors entered this high school on the heels of a 2-20 performance from the varsity squad. Four years later, Academy Park won 18 games.

“They’ve come a long, long way,’ Brydges said.

So has Penncrest. A team left for a dead not too long ago, a team that entered this tournament with zero expectations, is now heading to states.

First, the Lions will play at No. 10 Downingtown West (21-5) Friday in a seeding game. A win gets them the ninth seed and a likely matchup with Catholic League champion Roman Catholic. A loss gets them the 10th seed and a likely matchup with Cedar Crest. The upcoming challenges will be daunting. But nothing can spoil the journey.

“These kids are going to remember this forever,’ the elder Doyle said. “It’s just been a magical, magical run.’

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