FRANCONIA >> Jason Price didn’t hesitate when the ball came his way Friday night.
The Souderton junior had a quiet first half but kept finding himself with the ball in his hands in key moment after key moment in the second half of the Indians’ season opener against Lansdale Catholic in the Jim Church Classic. His corner pocket 3-pointer with 1:29 left in regulation was chief among those moments.
It was a lot to ask of any first-year varsity player but Price didn’t seem to feel the weight.
Paced by 14 second half points from Price and Dom Natale’s energy, the Indians topped the Crusaders 56-52 to start the season with a win.
“I’ve been learning how to move without the ball, my teammate found me and I shot it because I was open,” Price said of his trey. “I think we grew from last year. Last year we had a lot of close games we couldn’t finish and this year we’ve been preaching executing all of our plays and overall mental toughness.”
The past two years, the Crusaders have gotten the better of Souderton in the tournament game and LC led for most of the first three quarters. Again, it would be Price who proved to be the thorn in their side with his cutting layup off a feed from Natale late in the third giving Souderton a temporary lead.
Still, the game wouldn’t be decided until the fourth quarter. Brian Reiner’s 3-pointer with 4:37 would turn a 41-39 deficit into a 42-41 lead that the Indians never gave back but they would have to put their new mental fortitude to the test down the stretch.
“That’s our biggest focus for the season, being that mentally tough team,” Souderton coach Tim Brown said. “We’re learning how to win, I think we’ll be in situations to win but we have to learn how to win. The LC coaches do a great job, they get their guys doing the right thing and have beaten us the last two seasons, so this win is big for us.”
LC did a lot of things right but was also hurt by a handful of plays that only went about 95 percent right. The Crusaders closed the first quarter on a 7-0 run and built it to a 12-0 spree that gave them a 16-5 lead with 7:20 in the first half.
At that point, escape-artist Natale brought his team back. The senior forward hoodwinked LC a couple times, seemingly trapped in a no-win situation only to make a smart pass or finish to jump-start a 13-1 run that gave the Indians an 18-17 edge.
Natale would finish with a team-best 16 points, adding seven rebounds, four steals and three assists.
“His mental toughness I thought kept us in the game,” Brown said. “There were a couple possessions where guys were down a little bit and he picked them up, brought the energy and was on pace the entire time.”
LC would out-score the hosts 6-1 to finish the half with a 23-19 lead, then got hot to start the third quarter and built a 30-23 advantage.
The Crusaders had a balance game led by Jimmy Casey’s 17 points off the bench. It was a just a matter of Souderton executing a few more times in the final quarter.
“In close games, that’s what sometimes wins and loses the game,” LC coach Joe Corbett said. “A deflection there and we’re going the other way but he was able to kick out to the shooter and they knocked it down.”
After Price’s cutting layup put Souderton up 35-34, Natale ended the quarter with dramatics, banking in a three-quarter court heave at the buzzer for a four-point lead. The squads traded scores until Reiner’s right wing triple put the Indians back up.
Souderton got its lead up to five before LC chipped it down to a single point with 1:44 to go. Then, Sami Chouriaf drove right down the lane, sucking in the Crusaders defense and kicked out to the wide-open Price for a swished trey.
“To me, it’s not letting the little things get to you,” Price said. “Some foul calls, we may overreact but we’ve learned to bring each other in and bring each other up. We’ve gotten way better at that. I think we did a great job with that and it’s what led us over the other team.”
LC missed a three on the next possession but the Crusaders’ defense was able to get a stop with 1:07 left. The Crusaders were then hit with a technical foul and Price once again stepped to the line and hit two pivotal shots.
“It was a technical, I don’t know why, but that’s on me,” Corbett said. “Credit Souderton, they made some shots down the stretch. They hit the corner three which was a dagger and at the end of the day, we didn’t make enough plays to get the win.”
Price went 9-of-10 overall at the foul line and 7-of-8 in the final quarter to finish off his clutch performance.
“He’s been playing really well for us and he’s mentally tough,” Brown said. “Those foul shots come down to mental toughness and he stepped up and hit them in a big situation where he hasn’t seen that varsity time yet. He plays with a great pace that we love and he just does the right things.”
LC will face Council Rock North in Saturday’s consolation game and Corbett said that’s one of the toughest games to play in because neither team wants to be in it. At the same time, he liked a lot of things the Crusaders did on Friday and noted he’s still weighing a lot when it comes to starting five, rotations and overall roles for his team.
“We’re in a position to find out who’s going to help us down the road,” Corbett said. “Are we going to go big, can we go four around one, it’s all stuff we’re trying to find out. I’m not used to dealing with so many possible lineups, it’s going to take us some time but it is a good problem to have and they’re great kids who are going to work hard.”
Souderton will try to claim the tournament title against a Dock Mennonite squad that blistered CR North 68-41 on Friday. Brown and Price both said the Indians would have to play better than they did on Friday to handle the Pioneers size and shooting.
“A win is good but doesn’t forgive the sins we had,” Brown said. “We had 16 turnovers, we didn’t shoot particularly well from the line and didn’t always play with the pace we want to. I’d say we were 50 percent solid and 50 percent we need to improve on but the guys realize that.”
DOCK MENNONITE 68, COUNCIL ROCK NORTH 41
The Pioneers have a lot of new faces in their lineup but first impressions looked good.
Big man Darius Ellis, now a senior, is still the focal point but he has some athletic and sharp-shooting teammates around him. As long as Mike Fergus is coaching Dock, defense will lead the way but this Pioneers team has the potential to put up some points.
In the first half, it was Steve Martin leading the way as he knocked down four 3-pointers for 16 points in the opening 16 minutes of the season. As he cooled, point Ralph Saint-Fleur heated up.
Saint-Fleur, a reserve last year taking over for the program’s all-time assist leader in Nolan Bolton, was in pass-first mode early then got his scoring up after halftime. The guard chalked up eight of his 13 in the third quarter and dished out nine assists in his performance.
Ellis chalked up 13 points while Devon Jainlett notched 11.
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