Heidig’s hustle leads Penncrest back to semifinals

MIDDLETOWN >> Justin Heidig is the type of player who can fly under the radar on a team as talented as Penncrest.

After all, the Lions boast one of the true superstars in Delaware County over the past three seasons in senior guard Tyler Norwood, who is the program’s all-time leading scorer.

But an argument can be made that Tyler Norwood isn’t the player he is today without Justin Heidig.

“We’ve been playing together since we were 8 or 9 (years old),” Norwood said. “Just being on the court with him, he makes everybody so much better.

“Tonight he was our vocal guy. When we lock eyes, we know what’s about to happen. He’s a scrapper, probably I would say he is the most scrappiest player I have seen.”

Heidig, a senior point guard, was risking his body in the fourth quarter of No. 1 Penncrest’s 57-31 shellacking of ninth-seeded Holy Ghost Prep in a District 1 Class 5A quarterfinal matchup Saturday at the Dawg Pound. In the waning minutes, Heidig hustled for a loose ball, dove after it and took a shot to the face. He landed awkwardly, it seemed, but he was no worse for wear. Heidig stood up, with the ball, to a standing ovation from his teammates on the bench and the Penncrest faithful.

“He’s a role model to a lot of the younger guys,” Norwood said. “Just because we’re up 20 doesn’t mean he’ll take his foot off the gas. I told him, ‘Just keep your foot on their throats and keep pounding them.’”

That play, said coach Mike Doyle, typifies the kind of athlete Heidig really is.

“He just goes so hard,” Doyle said. “What sums up Justin’s four years is the play where he gets the rebound and they knock the ball away and he dives after it. That’s the play that will sum up his career in a time capsule. You would put that play in a time capsule — with two of their kids going after the ball and he comes up with it.”

Heidig, who finished with seven points, eight assists and two steals, didn’t talk about himself after the game. Instead, he chose to focus on the team aspect. Doing the little things — in this case, throwing your body to the ground when you’re winning by double digits late in regulation — embodies the spirit of Penncrest basketball. It’s a dedication to be great together, not as individuals.

“It’s an extras possession for us,” Heidig said. “We can go out and we can score more. It’s just knowing that, if we can get more possessions to score, we will lock up on ‘D’ and we’ll have a good chance at winning.”

To put it lightly, Penncrest (24-3) thoroughly dominated Holy Ghost (15-11) Saturday. The Firebirds were hesitant to take shots or drive to the basket. One player partially responsible for Penncrest’s suffocating defense was senior forward Chris Mills, who chipped in nine points, four rebounds and two steals.

“I feel like we matched up really well against them,” Mills said. “Every game, Coach Doyle tells us to throw the first punch, execute the game plan and go out with a lot of energy. That was our big game plan was to come out strong.”

It didn’t take long before the Firebirds resigned themselves to the fact they had no shot against the Lions.”

“We scouted maybe four or five of their games and went over all of their plays for maybe two hours,” Norwood said. “So we knew whenever a play was called, we would just call it out and knew what was coming. That really threw them off.

“One of their players asked me and Justin if we knew every play. We were, like, ‘Yeah, we do.’ We knew every play. Coach, he preaches it, too.”

The Lions hit six field goals in each quarter. They used a 13-0 run to take a 37-13 advantage midway in the third period. But the game was largely decided by halftime.

The Lions shot a remarkable 24-for-38 (63.1) percent from the floor and committed only two turnovers. Norwood led the way with 18 points on 8 of 15 shooting. Mills and Matt Arbogast (eight points, five rebounds) both went 4 of 5 from the floor. Heidig and Malcolm Williams (10 points) each finished 3-for-3.

The reigning District 1 Class 5A champions return to Temple University. The Lions, who clinched a PIAA tournament berth, will play No. 4 Wissahickon in the semifinal round Wednesday at 7:30. Wissahickon claimed a 55-48 win over fifth-seeded Great Valley.

“It’s almost like a brotherhood, this team,” Heidig said. “A lot of people thought we wouldn’t be back here with a lot of guys from last year leaving. We responded. We believe in each other and we would die for each other. Our goal is to win it again.”

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