NETHER PROVIDENCE — Strath Haven’s Luke Edwards wanted to be more assertive in the second half Wednesday night. The junior guard knew he had to keep shooting and build upon a solid first half in which he scored six points.
But he knew he had to be better to ensure his team’s victory in the opening round of the District 1 Class 5A tournament.
“I just kept on thinking that I have to keep attacking, keep setting plays for the teammates,” Edwards said. “Read and react. I knew I had to get to the basket or to pull up and shoot. Just trying to react and make a play any way I can.”
Edwards made quite a few plays during a third-quarter run that changed the complexion of Haven’s battle with No. 11 Phoenixville. He poured in 10 of his game-high 18 points in the third period to help No. 6 Strath Haven to a 45-40 victory.
“Everyone contributes, it wasn’t just me,” Edwards said. “We look to attack holes. If one guy attacks the hole, and if my guy collapses, we look to kick out and move the ball around. That’s what we do. We’re always trying to make plays for each other.”
Despite Edwards’ 4-for-5 shooting performance in the third quarter, the Panthers weren’t in the clear yet. They led by seven points going into the final stanza, but the Phantoms (13-10) clawed back to make it a one-point game with 3:30 to go.
Strath Haven answered and staved off Phoenixville’s comeback bid.
Junior forward Robbie Guilday, quiet to this point in the second half following a great start to the night, rebounded his own miss and scored a basket to extend Haven’s lead to three. On the Panthers’ next possession, sophomore guard Matt Shuler drained a 3-pointer to increase the lead to six points.
Haven sealed the win at the free-throw line. The Panthers will play nearby rival and third-seeded Penncrest Saturday.
Guilday netted nine of his 11 points in the opening half. He added five rebounds and one assist.
“This was a tough game,” Guilday said. “We planned for No. 1 (Steven Hamilton) and No. 20 (Mike Memmo). (Stevenson) is an extremely athletic kid and (Memmo) is their big guy down low, so we knew we had to clear them off the baseline. Our defense was pretty good.”
Memmo had 16 points and Hamilton tossed in 14 for the Phantoms.
Both teams struggled in the first half, combining to shoot 29.5 percent from the floor.
The action was much better after intermission.
“Our coaches said to us that we know we are going to start making our shots in the second half,” Guilday said. “We just had to keep running our offense, keep our heads in the game and the shots were going to fall.”
Guilday was not surprised to see Edwards step up and ignite the offense.
“When he is making his shots, it boosts everyone’s confidence,” he said.
“We had to regroup,” first-year Strath Haven coach Chris Conlan said. “We had to start executing our stuff and we went over some other plays, a couple of man-to-man plays that we usually run and going up against their zone, we were trying to get Luke some easy looks and get him going a bit.”
Isaiah Freeman gave a gritty performance in reserve duty. While he scored only one point, he grabbed a team-high nine boards and played outstanding defense.
Shuler paired eight points with two rebounds. Senior point guard Ibo Pio dished out two assists and grabbed three rebounds.
Strath Haven and Penncrest will meet for a fourth time this season in Saturday’s second round. Their last meeting came in the Central League quarterfinals, with Penncrest earning a 48-44 decision.
“We felt we could have won that game,” Guilday said. “But in order for us to play them again, we knew we had to do our jobs and win this game tonight. It feels good knowing we’re going to see them again on Saturday and you know it’s going to be a good game. I’m excited for it.”
Chris Conlan spent the prior three seasons as an assistant under Penncrest coach Mike Doyle.
“The guy was at my wedding in April,” Conlan said. “I guess it’s kind of the story. We were texting the other day and joking that it’s like a movie, that someday they’re going to write a movie about us, playing each other so much.
“I know what to expect, there’s really no secrets. There’s going to be a lot of changing of signals and calls. I’m sure he’s going to try to adjust to us. He’s a genius, and in that atmosphere (at Penncrest), I was there for a ton of district playoff games on that bench and I know that atmosphere should be great.
“I know both teams will be ready to go.”