ROYERSFORD >> Pope John Paul II head coach Brendan Stanton said when opponents view footage of his team’s games they likely see a completely different squad than they’ll face on game day.
They could be watching Drew McKeon score 20 points, or Tyshyre Malachi, or Sean Bustynowicz. Maybe Justin Green or Chris White.
The Panthers have been a balanced offensive squad all year, and it especially helps this time of year when you are not playing opponents who haven’t already seen you twice.
“For scouting purposes, it makes us really hard,” Stanton said.
That balance was on display in PJP’s 66-60 win over Springfield-Montco in the District 1 Class 4A semifinals on Thursday night.
McKeon scored 16 points, Bustynowicz scored 15 points, Green added 14, White added 12 and Malachi rounded out the Panthers’ scoring with eight points as PJP advanced to Saturday’s Class 4A championship against Lower Moreland.
“We’ll take our five over any five,” Green said. “We really pride ourselves on being five deep. Anyone can score in double figures.”
Neither team had much playoff experience heading into Thursday’s matchup. PJP (12-12) hadn’t played a district playoff game since a run of three straight appearances from 2014-16. Springfield-Montco (6-16) was in a similar boat, not having much experience in any big-time games in recent years.
The Panthers, who got a taste of playoff action during a semifinal loss to Methacton in the Pioneer Athletic Conference playoffs on Feb. 8, showed more poise early on, jumping out to a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Springfield-Montco missed some easy shots and committed a few turnovers at the beginning of the game. Head coach Chris Cole said his team had butterflies like it did in the season opener.
“This is a lot of the kid’s first time in playoffs, so they didn’t know what to expect,” Cole said. “We had a lot of jitters, a lot of nerves.”
The Spartans eventually settled down, cutting the deficit to 12-8 at the end of the first quarter. Springfield-Montco grabbed the lead three times in the second quarter. All three times, PJP went back up on its next possession. The Panthers went into the break with a 27-24 lead behind White’s eight points.
Springfield-Montco tied the game, 30-30, with four minutes 30 seconds left in the third quarter. PJP responded with a 7-0, which included five points from McKeon. He scored 12 of his 16 points after halftime.
Green’s putback before the buzzer at the end of the period sent the Panthers into the fourth quarter with a 44-38 advantage and momentum. At that point it was PJP’s largest lead of the game.
“At that point, I was like, ‘All right. I think we got this one,’” Bustynowicz said. “You never want to say too early you got one in the bag, but at that point I was feeling pretty confident.”
The basket also fired up the PJP crowd.
The Panthers had a sizeable student section, and the Spartans brought a large crowd of their own, which made for a great atmosphere on Thursday night.
“I’ve never seen this gym this loud in my life,” Bustynowicz said. “We were just having fun out there. They were really feeding our energy. We shot really well toward the end of the game, and I think (the crowd) really helped us out a lot.”
Led by senior Wilson Krewson, who had 14 of his game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, the Spartans kept PJP within striking distance. Ultimately, they could never get back within single digits. White’s three with just under two minutes left put the Panthers up 59-48 and put the game out of reach.
Green, who had 12 of his 14 points after halftime, went 5-for-7 from the foul line in the fourth quarter to close out the victory.
Senior Zach Edmonds scored 13 points, and senior Ben Rittenhouse added 10 points to join Krewson in double figures for Springfield-Montco.
“I’m proud of my seniors,” Cole said. “They fought until the end.”
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