PHOENIXVILLE >> This was the Pioneer Athletic Conference boys basketball game that everyone has been looking forward to for a long time.
Undefeated Phoenixville at home against undefeated Spring-Ford in a showdown of division leaders in the circuit.
And while neither side was at its sharpest Thursday night, the host Phantoms and Rams still put on quite a show to entertain a packed house of some 1,000 vocal spectators who crammed into the Phoenixville Area School District gymnasium.
Phoenixville clawed past the Rams, 50-46, in a game that was deadlocked at 36 at the end of three periods.
Still regarded as one of the finest rivalries in the suburban area because the schools are located just a few miles apart, the Phantoms once again used their deep 10-man rotation and defense as key ingredients on a night when neither team shot well from the field.
Phoenixville’s Christian Kelly returned from a thumb injury that sidelined him for two weeks to score a game-high 27 points, including 22 in the second half. The Phantoms (12-0, 17-3) try to complete an undefeated run through the league schedule when they host Pope John Paul II on Senior Night Friday evening.
Matt Gnias was high man for the Rams (1-1, 16-5) with 17 while Nigel Cooke added 11.
“I had to come out with more energy,” said Kelly of his third-quarter surge. “Because of my teammates, I had to play better. In this type of atmosphere, I couldn’t play bad. It was great to have this kind of support for our basketball team.”
The Phantoms protected their home floor, where they have not been beaten this season.
But while taking a major step, this was still one regular season game. The Final Four playoffs that determine the PAC-10 championship start next Friday night at Spring-Ford’s Ram Gymnasium.
The game included two outstanding young coaches in former Spring-Ford teammates Eric Burnett of Phoenixville and Chris Talley of Spring-Ford. Burnett is in his second year as the Phantoms’ head coach while Talley is in his third year with the Rams. Talley was a senior at Spring-Ford when Burnett was a freshman. They both played for head coach Dave Caldwell, who guided the Rams through some excellent years and was on hand Friday as a cable television announcer.
But as Talley pointed, the game was not a battle between the two coaches, it was a battle between two exceptional teams who have had high-quality years and could develop more success stories during upcoming weeks.
“This was another chance to get a better district seed,” said Burnett. “It was a preview of a playoff atmosphere with a packed house. We knew it was going to be a dogfight.”
Both coaches felt there were some jitters at the outset. The first quarter ended with Spring-Ford in front, 8-5. The Rams still led by a point at halftime, 19-18.
“It was sick,” said Phoenixville’s Jeff Conboy, who finished with eight points and one 3-point field goal. “We never had 1,000 people in here before. The crowd was getting into it.”
“It was a great high school basketball game,” said Talley. “It lived up to the build-up and hype that it got in the local area.”