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Phoenixville rallies past Upper Merion

UPPER MERION >> Phoenixville found itself in a familiar position Thursday night.

The Phantoms got off to a slow start and trailed Upper Merion by six points at halftime. They quickly erased that deficit in the third quarter and closed the game with nine straight points to beat the Vikings, 57-52, in Pioneer Athletic Conference Frontier Division play at Upper Merion Area High School.

“Going into halftime we knew the first two minutes of the third we have to go at them, set the tone, make them break,” Phoenixville wing Steven Hamilton said. “Just play together, because in the first half – our first halves haven’t been that great. Third quarter and fourth quarter we always pick it up. This game was very important because it was a PAC game on our side. We had to pull out the win.”

Phoenixville opened the third quarter with a 5-0 run to cut a 25-19 deficit to 25-24 in the first 65 seconds of the second half. They tied the game at 30 and took their first lead since 3-0, 34-32, on a pair of Clay Kopko free throws with 2:05 left in the third quarter.

“Since the start of the season that’s been us,” Phoenixville coach Eric Burnett said. “For whatever reason our starters aren’t starting the game very well. They’re well aware of it. We’ve had stretches where we start 16-1, 17-1, halftime 32-11 all in various different games. We have a lot of grit and toughness to stick together and eventually we know we’re going to go on that run. It starts defensively.”

They maintained the lead for the rest of the third quarter and the early portion of the fourth, leading by as many as six points. Upper Merion took the lead, 44-43, when a Lukas Kim layup stretched a run to 7-0 with 5:30 remaining.

The Vikings (4-7, 2-4 PAC Frontier) took their final lead of the night, 51-49, on a pair of Madison Tatom free throws with 2:31 to go.

Hamilton hit a pull-up jumper to give the Phantoms (8-5, 5-1 PAC Frontier) the lead for good, 53-52, with a minute to go. Kopko and Mike Memmo knocked down free throws to close out the win, 57-52.

“We’re used to it,” Hamilton said of needing late-game heroics. “We actually get ourselves in that position a lot, which is sometimes a negative thing to do, but positive we never give up. We hustle, we keep going, we don’t break. We’re unbreakable. We just keep playing, play together, play as a team, help each other and score the basketball.”

“Kopko had an unbelievable game,” Burnett added. “He was (perfect) down the stretch from the foul line, made a big three and took two charges.”

The Phantoms offense was much better in the second half compared to the first. They scored 38 points after the break compared to 19 before and turned the ball over just four times compared to nine in the opening 16 minutes.

“We started setting more ball screens instead of off-ball screens,” Hamilton said. “We knew we had to attack, get to the foul line, get them in foul trouble and just break them.”

Unfortunately for the Vikings, it was also a familiar result for them. They’ve played tough first halves this season but struggle to put complete games together. Wednesday night they played first place Pope John Paul II to within one point in the first half, but ended up losing by 13.

“The message at halftime was we didn’t want what happened (Wednesday) night to happen tonight,” Upper Merion coach Jason Quenzer said. “Lose guys that we know are going to hit shots. They eventually got it, it was just too little too late.

“Fourth quarter we brought it back, then it was a back-and-forth game. Just haven’t been able to win that kind of game yet.”

After falling behind 3-0 to start the game, the Vikings rattled off 11 straight points. Phoenixville hit a three at the buzzer to end the first quarter down, 11-6.

The PAC Frontier rivals played a tight second quarter. Ty Jones had six points in the frame for the Vikings while Memmo had eight for Phoenixville. The teams went to the break with Upper Merion ahead, 25-19.

Memmo scored a game-high 19 points for the Phantoms and Hamilton joined him in double figures with 12 points.

Ty Jones led the Vikings with 10 points. Kim, Tatom and Nick Shepperd each added nine.

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