BETHLEHEM >> While Methacton’s breakthrough season ended Friday night at Freedom High School, head coach Craig Kaminski wasn’t spending much time reflecting or dwelling on the defeat.
He’s too excited for the future.
“We gained valuable experience by playing in a state game, which definitely helps us going forward,” Kaminski said after a 55-48 loss to District 11 champion Northampton in a PIAA Class 6A first-round game Friday.
All but one starter — and several key reserves — return for Methacton next year, and a 21-7 record in 2018-19 gives them quite the foundation to build upon next season and beyond.
Northampton (25-4) is a tough team to match in at least two areas. First, their nickname, the Konkrete Kids, may be the best in the 6A field. But more importantly, the District 11 champs have size, quickness, and depth to match just about any opponent. Led by Seton Hall commit Victoria Keenan, Northampton can beat teams in a number of ways.
On Friday night, they used defense and transition offense to go on a 12-0 run out of the gate, building a 17-2 advantage by the early second quarter. Morgan Sterner broke away from the pack to turn some early turnovers into baskets, while 6-0 center Jenna Rogers canned a deep 3 to end the first quarter.
Northampton opened a lead as large as 21-3 as the Warriors were plagued early by the same scoring woes that hurt the team at times during the District 1 playbacks.
They broke out in a big way in the second stanza, however, as senior point guard Abby Penjuke heated up, her 13 points bringing the Warriors back within single digits late in the frame. A late five-point run from freshman Nicole Timko made the margin only five at the break, as Methacton rode a 24-point quarter to close within 31-26.
“We’re a come-from-behind team — we have been all year,” said Kaminski. “I’m extremely proud of the way we fought back.”
In the third quarter, the Warriors continued to play Northampton to a standstill, as Penjuke nailed another deep 3 and Sydney Tornetta added an old-fashioned three-point play. Tornetta brought the Warriors as close as four with a fast break layup in the last minute of the quarter, and the Warriors went to the final stanza within two possessions of the District 11 champs.
But Keenan found freshman Kylie Gilliard for a couple quick buckets, while Rogers’ short jumped re-extended the Konkrete Kids’ lead to 10 midway through the final quarter. Methacton got tough buckets from youngsters like Timko and Tori Bockrath down the stretch, but ultimately ran out of time.
Sterner would lead the victorious Konkrete Kids with 17, followed closely by Rogers with 15. Methacton was able to limit Keenan to seven points, but it was clear throughout the game how important the senior will be to Northampton’s chances.
“She had a bit of a rough time tonight,” said Northampton coach Jeff Jacksits. “Credit to them — they played hard and we know we were in a fight.”
Penjuke, the lone graduating starter for Methacton, made her final high school game count, leading all scorers with 20 points on the evening.
“I feel really bad for Abby, the way she played tonight, that we’re going home,” Kaminski lamented. “She puts up 20 points and holds a Division 1 player (Keenan) to seven, and we lose. She’s a kid who plays every day as if it’s a national championship. I just feel awful for her.”
While disappointed, Penjuke wasn’t looking for sympathy.
“All week, Coach said don’t worry about it, (Keenan) will get 15-20 points, we just need to limit everyone else,” she said. “I made my own goal of keeping her under 10 — I did that.”
Penjuke, who will head to West Chester to play softball next year, is the unquestioned leader of the Methacton squad, and she spearheaded the comeback that ultimately fell just short.
“Without Abby? We would’ve continued to play hard, but she’s the glue. A lot of that credit goes to her,” said Kaminski.
“There’s no way I was going out with (the way we played early.) My high school career has been awesome, and I couldn’t end it like that,” Penjuke concluded.
Northampton will have to follow a westerly path through the bracket if they continue to advance. Their next game will come Tuesday night against District 7’s Norwin.
“We knew Methacton was a physical team,” said Jacksits, “and they adjusted well to the things we do. I thought we were a little complacent after we took that early lead, but we’ll work on that moving forward.”
Meanwhile, after qualifying as the 11th seed from a loaded District 1 field, Methacton got an up-close look at the type of team they hope to become next year — experienced, disciplined, and replete with numerous scoring options.
“You always want to be playing for state titles, league titles, district titles,” said Kaminski. “It’s awesome to be here, and those last three quarters were some of the best we’ve played. We just came up a little short.”
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