Plymouth Whitemarsh clinches SOL American title over Cheltenham

CHELTENHAM >> It was Senior Night at Cheltenham High School Tuesday night and the Panthers had a chance to earn a share of the Suburban One League American Conference title with a win over Plymouth Whitemarsh.

But when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, it was the Colonials upperclassmen who stepped up and carried their team to a 58-56 win and a third straight league championship.

“We like league titles,” PW coach Jim Donofrio, who has won 12 in 18 years, said. “We don’t like sharing them. It’s the one championship that is your first goal if you have a good team.”

“It feels good,” PW’s Xzavier Malone said. “I feel like I got the chip off my shoulder – I can sleep now. This was a really big game for us. We were down at halftime, came out and showed how much heart we had. We came together as brothers … and came out with the win.”

Colonials (19-1, 12-1) seniors Malone, Mike Lotito and Kevin Ashenfelter combined for 21 of the team’s 23 fourth-quarter points to overcome a three-point deficit after three quarters.

Panthers (15-5, 9-3) forward Amir Lewis scored the first basket of the fourth to make it a five-point lead for Cheltenham.

“I tried to prepare our guys.” Cheltenham coach John Timms said. “When you’re playing a team that’s 18-1 you have to understand they are going to make a run. Good teams withstand that run and then counter. Well, we’re good, but we’re not good enough to counter.”

Lotito responded with his own 8-0 run to give the Colonials their first lead of the game, 43-40.

Malone scored eight points in the fourth, too. He made a three with 5:27 remaining to break a 43-43 tie and had a personal 5-0 run with 2:50 left to bring the Colonials from down 50-46 to up 51-50. PW never trailed again.

Ashenfelter made his presence felt a minute later, drilling a three to give the Colonials a six-point lead, 56-50.

Sophomore Ahmin Williams also played a key role for PW. He scored two points in the fourth quarter and, more importantly, grabbed two loose balls with 35 and 13 seconds left in the game to give the Colonials extra possessions.

“Ahmin is a glue guy,” Donofrio said. “You need that guy who doesn’t mind diving from 17 feet away.”

Cheltenham never backed down. Its eleven-point third quarter lead disappeared and all momentum appeared to be with the Colonials.

One problem – nobody told that to the Panthers.

Khalil White made a three to tie the game at 43 in the fourth and he and his brother Anthony made five straight to put Cheltenham back on top by four, 50-46.

The Colonials ensuing 12-0 run over the next 2:25 was too much for the Panthers to overcome.

“It was similar to the first game,” Timms said, comparing this to a two-point loss at PW last month. “We jumped out to a lead, tried to hold on to the lead and that’s a really good team. To play them to a one-possession game, that’s all you can ask for.”

PW’s defense played a big role in this win, forcing more than 20 turnovers.

“Our black press worked very good,” Malone said. “Our man-to-man defense was pretty good … Our black press really turned everything around.”

Malone led PW with 19 points and Lotito scored 10.

Khalil White led Cheltenham with 16 points and Anthony White and Trevonn Pitts each scored eight.

Both of these teams will be headed to the District One AAAA playoffs after the regular season ends and could run into each other again.

“This is a top five team in the district,” Timms said of PW. “If you can play a top five team in the district to one possession, you should do well in the playoffs. Ultimately our goal is to advance in the district playoffs, not beat them in the regular season to say we beat them.”


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