Plymouth Whitemarsh looks to learn from district defeat in states

The Plymouth Whitemarsh boys basketball team was disappointed after it lost to Abington in the District 1 Class-6A semifinals last week. And why shouldn’t it be? The team had reached the championship game each of the two previous years and won the title in 2016.

The Colonials filed out of their locker room in Temple University’s Liacouras Center with their heads down.

“You just deal with the pain and frustration of not playing your best,” PW coach Jim Donofrio said after the loss. “But there’s no time to sulk. Sometimes you have to explain to young teams that this is still going. This is like the Big East tournament. It seems like the world because you’re at Madison Square Garden, but it’s not the big tournament. It’s a tremendous thing to win the district, but there’s even one bigger. So don’t sulk. You do not have time.”

They responded three days later with a win over Suburban One League American Conference rival Cheltenham — the third time they beat the Panthers this season — to earn third place in District 1 for the PIAA state tournament.

After the Abington loss, Donofrio talked about the 2009 Colonials. They lost to Conestoga in the District 1 quarterfinals, but were quietly figuring things out all season. They beat Lower Merion in a playback game and lost to Chester in another. They went on a run in the state playoffs, winning three games — including a win over District 1 champion Norristown — to reach the semifinals.

“Learn from it,” Donofrio said of the mistakes the 2017 team made against Abington. “If you do it right, figure it out and keep growing. A kid like Ish Horn who spent the first two-thirds of the season not playing — you’re talking Ahmin Williams — a kid who’s your starting point guard and an absolute force of a player no longer playing. You’re on the fly throwing (Horn) in there and that’s very risky against an Abington team right now… That’s one more three-hour film session of analyzing and how can I become a better player? Kids grow up fast. Two weeks from now is a lifetime. If you do this right, you could be back here (Liacouras Center) in a big arena again.”

If this team is going to go on a run like that, the next step is the first round of the PIAA Class-6A state playoffs.

(1-3) Plymouth Whitemarsh will face (3-4) Lebanon Saturday at Upper Dublin High School at 4 p.m.

Lebanon entered the District 3 playoffs as the No. 3 seed and got a first-round bye. The Cedars beat Central Dauphin East, 51-50, in the quarterfinals and lost to Hempfield, 53-40, in the semifinals. In the third-place consolation game, Lebanon lost to Reading, 66-59.

Lebanon’s leading scorers are guards Camryn Shaak (11.92 PPG) and Luis Aquino (10.96). Shaak and guard Dante Vargas are both threats from three-point range and forward Khalique Washington (6-foot-5, 8.56 PPG) handles the paint.

The Cedars like to play at an up-tempo pace that matches PW’s will to run, which should make for an entertaining game.

The Colonials will match the pace with juniors Horn and Ahmad Williams and senior Cheo Houston handling the ball on offense and defending tightly on the other end. Senior Matt Walker will look for his shot from three-point land and sophomore seven-footer Naheem McLeod will make his presence felt in the paint.

Class 6A

(1-1) Abington vs. (3-6) CD East >> 4 p.m. Saturday, Bensalem HS.

Abington is coming off its second district championship in three years. Junior guard Robbie Heath and sophomore forward Eric Dixon led the Ghosts to wins over Coatesville in the championship game and Plymouth Whitemarsh in the semifinals. Add guard Rob Young’s composure and forward Joe O’Brien’s size and Abington will be a tough team to beat this time of year.

Central Dauphin East finished sixth in District 3. It lost to Lebanon in the quarterfinals, beat Gov. Mifflin in the first playback game and lost to Carlisle in the fifth-place game.

(12-1) Roman Catholic vs. (1-8) Perkiomen Valley >> 5 p.m. Saturday, St. Joseph’s Prep HS.

Roman — the reigning PIAA Class-4A state champs — had an entirely new team this year. Gone were Tony Carr, Nazeer Bostick and Lamar Stevens — off to Penn State. Despite that, the Cahillites reached the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals and finished first in District 12 Class-6A.

Perk Valley had a disappointing showing in the District 1 Class-6A tournament. The No. 1 seed was eliminated by Cheltenham in the quarterfinals. The Pioneer Athletic Conference champion Vikings will rely on Justin Jaworski and Sean Owens to try and shoot their way past a perennial Philadelphia power in Roman.

(3-3) Reading vs. (1-5) North Penn >> 4 p.m. Saturday, Kutztown University.

Reading was the No. 1 seed in the District 3 Class-6A tournament after a 23-2 regular season but lost to Harrisburg, 61-58, in the semifinals. Reading features one of the top players nationwide in the 2017 class — Lonnie Walker. Walker is committed to the University of Miami. He scored a game-high 19 points in the loss to Harrisburg.

North Penn will have the task of slowing down Walker. The Knights have faced high-level players during their postseason run. They beat Hatboro-Horsham and Indiana commit Clifton Moore during the district playoffs and knocked off Perk Valley and Jaworski — who can score 30 points on any given night — in the playbacks.

(1-4) Cheltenham vs. (11-4) Emmaus >> 4 p.m. Saturday, Council Rock South HS.

Cheltenham is back in the PIAA state tournament for the first time since 2006. After losing basically an entire team of seniors, coach John Timms led the Panthers to the District 1 semifinals. Trevonn Pitts, Ahmad Bickley and Jack Clark lead the young Panthers team. Cheltenham enters states coming off two losses — district semifinal loss to Coatesville and playback loss to Plymouth Whitemarsh.

Emmaus finished fourth in District 11. Emmaus, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, loss to Pocono Mountain West in the semifinals.

Class 5A

(12-1) Archbishop Wood vs. (3-9) New Oxford >> 7:30 p.m. Friday, Philadelphia University.

Archbishop Wood is enjoying the best season in school history. The Vikings won their first ever Philadelphia Catholic League championship and won the District 12 title over Martin Luther King. Collin Gillespie — a Villanova commit and PCL player of the year — should lead the Vikings deep in the state tournament.

New Oxford finished one game over .500 at 11-10 this season. It lost the District 3 opener but won three straight consolation games — against Waynesboro, Shippensburg and Hershey — to earn ninth place in the district and a spot in states.

(3-1) Northeastern vs. (1-7) Wissahickon >> 7:30 p.m. Friday, West York HS.

Northeastern won the District 3 championship. It went 23-2 in the regular season to earn the No. 1 seed in the tournament before knocking off Exeter Twp., Greencastle-Antrim, Spring Grove and Mechanicsburg. Its closest game was a 17-point win in the championship.

Wissahickon had a little bit more difficult road to the state playoffs. The Trojans upset Phoenixville before losing by four to eventual district champion Penncrest. They lost the playback opener to Springfield (Delco) and beat WC Rustin, 54-50, in a winner goes to states, loser goes home game.

(1-2) Upper Merion vs. (3-5) Greencastle-Antrim >> 7:30 p.m. Friday, Cheltenham HS.

Upper Merion is back in the state tournament for the first time since 1993. The Vikings came up just short of the second district title in state history — losing to Penncrest in the final minute last weekend. Upper Merion has a team full of seniors that have been through plenty of adversity. That experience should help this time of year.

Greencastle-Antrim finished fifth in District 3. They went into the tournament as the No. 8 seed and ran into Northeastern in the second round. They beat Manheim Central and Palmyra in the consolation bracket to earn the fifth seed and enter states on a two-game winning streak.

(1-3) Great Valley vs. (12-3) Archbishop Carroll >> 7:30 p.m. Friday, Spring-Ford HS.

Great Valley finished third in District 1. It entered the postseason as the No. 2 seed but lost to eventual champion Penncrest in the semifinals. In the consolation round, it beat Bishop Shanahan, 48-44.

Archbishop Carroll finished the regular season in seventh place in the Philadelphia Catholic League. The Patriots knocked off La Salle in the first round of the PCL playoffs before losing to Neumann-Gorreti, 73-55, in the quarterfinals. Justin Anderson led Carroll in scoring with more than 12 points per game.

Class 2A

(12-1) Math Civics & Sciences vs. (1-2) Dock Mennonite >> 3:30 p.m. Saturday, South Philadelphia HS.

Math Civics and Sciences enters the state tournament as the District 12 No. 1 seed. The last time it played, it lost to Imhotep in the Philadelphia Public League semifinals. The Mighty Elephants went 18-9 this year.

Dock Mennonite was the No. 2 seed in the District 1 playoffs and played two tough games. The Pioneers won, 59-58, against Delco Christian in the semifinals and lost, 47-45, to Church Farm in the championship.

TOP PHOTO: Plymouth Whitemarsh guard Ahmad Williams puts up a shot against Abington forward Joe O’Brien. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

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