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Methacton, Pope John Paul II press pause on historic runs

As the state, country and even parts of the world press pause for the near future, so do two area boys basketball squads.

The PIAA announced last week that its winter championships would be suspended for minimally two weeks in a response to the prevention of spreading COVID-19, a coronavirus that has sparked a global pandemic.

For Methacton and Pope John Paul II that means an interruption to the best seasons in each of their respective programs’ histories and brings about the question of when/if they will be able to conclude their historic runs.

“I’ve been praying every day that it doesn’t end the way it did,” PJP senior Drew McKeon said. “I’m sure every senior who’s still playing doesn’t want to be told they played their last game without them knowing it. I’m really just really hoping they don’t cancel it. There’s been petitions out there and stuff. I’ve signed them but I just hope they don’t cancel them and the virus clears up for the sake of everyone.”

Pope John Paul II’s Drew McKeon drives against a Central Catholic defender last week. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

Both PJP and Methacton clinched their spots in the PIAA quarterfinals before the tournaments were postponed.

The Golden Panthers (21-6), which downed District 12’s Bartram and District 11 champion Allentown Central Catholic in the opening two rounds, were prepping for a game against District 11 three seed Tamaqua, which was supposed to take place last Friday, and had realistic hopes of extending the school’s longest state playoff run to the PIAA semifinals.

Methacton (28-2), which reached its second straight 6A quarterfinal after routing Harrisburg and District 12’s Abraham Lincoln in its first two games, were set to face Philadelphia Catholic League power Roman Catholic last Saturday in a highly-anticipated rematch of an exciting early season non-league game.

Instead, the Warriors haven’t convened since as the Methacton School District was closed when the PIAA announced its postponements on Thursday.

“I haven’t been able to meet with the team. We’ve had communications certainly,” Methacton coach Jeff Derstine said. “I think our guys are all pretty much on the same page, kind of understanding the situation and really just kind of the message coming out everywhere that safety for students, staff and community members is the No. 1 focus. Our guys I think are working individually at home trying to stay in shape, and that’s pretty much all we can do.”

Governor Tom Wolf issued a directive to close all schools in Pennsylvania for a 10-day period, which started Monday, as a measure to limit the gathering of large groups of people and minimize the potential spread of the coronavirus.

The PIAA released a statement Monday emphasizing that the directive extends to athletic practices and teams should not be getting together at this time.

Along with the uncertainty of their seasons, the time spent apart from teammates who they’ve spent hours upon hours with since the fall has been difficult for both teams.

“The eight of us have really, ever since probably mid-October, have been at every single workout, open gym, lifting session,” Woodward said. “We knew how good of a team we were and what things we could accomplish. Having all that work and everything that we’ve done throughout these six months put on hold has been really hard.

“That’s just not your brotherhood on the court. In school everyday you’re seeing those guys, talking to those guys. You’ve got class with those guys and that closeness. Not just seeing those guys, but not seeing anybody, it’s tough.”

Pope John Paul II coach Brendan Stanton, center, congratulates his players after the team’s PIAA 4A win over Allentown Central Catholic on Tuesday. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

In most seasons, the Pioneer Athletic Conference would not have any teams playing at this point in the season. The two runs are not just unprecedented for their schools but for the PAC as well.

Only two other PAC teams — Methacton last season and Phoenixville in 2005 — have gone to the PIAA quarterfinals since 2000. It’s the first time that the Mercury area has two boys hoops teams playing past the first two rounds of states in the same season .

“I know it’s a bit of a bummer right now because we don’t have a time table for if there’s ever going to be a game,” PJP coach Brendan Stanton said. “It’s a good life lesson in some ways. I think we put a lot of time and stock into high school basketball, all of us who are directly involved with it, and it just goes to show that there’s obviously bigger and more important things in life.

“Sometimes these are just the cards you’re dealt and you have to figure out and deal with it. A lot of sports seasons have already been canceled … and careers have to come to an end. Even though there’s only a small glimmer of hope that we’re still playing, we’ve got to take what we got right now and there’s still a chance so we have to remain optimistic.”

Methacton coach Jeff Derstine, center, smiles on the sidelines as he watches Owen Kropp shoot a free throw late in Saturday’s District 1-6A championship game against Cheltenham. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

Methacton’s senior core of Woodward, Erik Timko, Brett Eberly and Owen Kropp have been building toward this season throughout their careers. While PJP’s historic run has been more of a surprise, it had been a dream conclusion to the careers of McKeon and classmates David Smrek, Evan Yasneski and Christian Simpson.

McKeon said he has a hoop on a pavement patio at his house where he has found some peace of mind during the last few days of isolation. Woodward has similarly gone out to shoot in his driveway to try and pass the time and take advantage of the nice weather.

They hope they won’t be the last shots they put up before the official end to their high school careers, holding out faith that their seasons will end with finality on a basketball court.

“If we’re playing and there’s 30 people in the gym, we don’t care,” Woodward said. “We just want to get out there, and we want to compete and try and win and try to finish our careers … The limbo we’re in, it’s tough. The last time I want to put on my jersey, I want to know it’s going to be the last time. Not this could be the last time, or this might be the last time. I want to know. I want to be able to celebrate with my team or I want to go down fighting with my team … Not having that closure is really, really tough.”

“I’ll play in September,” McKeon said. “I’ll come home from college next year if I have to.”

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