Phoenixville topples Pottstown in District 1-5A quarterfinal, books first trip to states in 15 years

PHOENIXVILLE >> Phoenixville’s boys basketball team is writing history one game at a time.

And the players responsible are in no hurry to finish this particular chapter.

Pottstown’s Abdul Jackson, right, tries to finish at the rim as Phoenixville’s Brady O’Donnell contests during the second half of a District 1-5A playoff game on Feb. 21 at Phoenixville. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Seven days after winning the school’s first Pioneer Athletic Conference title since 2007, the No. 4 seed Phantoms booked their first trip to the PIAA state tournament in 15 years with a District 1-5A quarterfinal win over No. 5 Pottstown, 71-61.

Deacon Baratta led Phoenixville with 20 points, while senior Christian Cervino finished with 19 as the Phantoms built an early lead, withstood repeated Pottstown comebacks, and pulled away late.

Phoenixville advances to Saturday’s District 1-5A semifinals where it will meet No. 1 seed Unionville on the road at 7 p.m.

Although Phoenixville booked the program’s first trip to states since 2008-2009, no one’s turning their focus just yet, not with a matchup at No. 1 Unionville looming.

“The state playoff berth means a lot, especially because it’s been so long,” admitted Cervino. “But we just go one day at a time right now. We have to focus on our next game.”

It’s the Phantoms’ fourth victory in as many meetings this season against Pottstown, as the two squads ran away from the competition in the PAC’s Frontier Division and settled matters on the court twice in the regular season, followed by a PAC semifinal meeting and Wednesday’s encounter.

“It didn’t necessarily get harder, but they were determined, scrappy,” said Cervino. “We know we’re in for a good game when we play Pottstown.”

With the highest stakes in quite some time in the old rivalry, it was the Phantoms’ newest player who made one of the biggest differences.

Phoenixville senior Christian Cervino smiles while being congratulated by teammates as he heads to the free-throw line in the closing stages of a District 1-5A playoff win over Pottstown on Feb. 21 at Phoenixville. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Keron Booth is a reserve freshman guard who plays with an intensity and swagger that belies his age. After Pottstown closed within two with about 90 seconds to play in the third quarter, Booth went on a four-minute spree that turned the game permanently in the hosts’ favor.

First, the freshman got loose for a three to bring the lead to 50-45 before orchestrating a turnover in the backcourt. He sunk one of two free throws on the ensuing possession, sneaking in a layup before the buzzer to raise the lead to eight.

Pottstown broke Booth’s personal 6-0 run with an Abdul Jackson jumper, but Booth would draw a charge the next time down court, punctuating the call with a demonstrative clapping of his hands that signaled the momentum turning once more in Phoenixville’s direction – this time for good.

Phoenixville’s Keron Booth (3) tries to drive past Pottstown’s Sadeeq Jackson (23) during a District 1-5A playoff game on Feb. 21 at Phoenixville. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

A short jumper two minutes later closed the book on Booth’s scoring for the night, having contributed 10 points. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was the final margin.

Phoenixville’s Deacon Baratta (21) is fouled by Pottstown’s Jurrell Young while trying to finish at the rim during a District 1-5A playoff game on Feb. 21 at Phoenixville. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

“Coming off the bench allows me to see what my team needs, whether that’s energy or something else,” said Booth. “I just try to help the team as best I can.”

It’s a big job for a player who wasn’t even part of the team at the start of 2023-2024. Booth, a December transfer from Episcopal Academy, has quickly found a home and made a name for himself at his new school and on his new team. It’s not just his playing ability either.

“Everything I’d heard about him, as a player and as a person, was incredible,” said Phoenixville coach Eric Burnett.

“Any other team, he could’ve had a really hard time coming in like that – he and the team deserve credit for bonding, having fun together. It’s like he’s been best friends with these guys all his life.”

The first half was a simple story of Phoenixville running out to quick starts — a pair of 8-0 runs began each of the first two stanzas — before Pottstown fought back to tie the game after one quarter and stayed within striking distance, trailing by only four at the break.

Phoenixville’s lead finally reached double figures after Booth’s final bucket, and after an extended period of foul shots (38 for the two teams combined) late, the Phantoms (19-6) were onto Saturday’s semis.

For Pottstown (18-7), they’ll host a do-or-die playback game also on Saturday against No. 8 Upper Moreland, with the victor joining Wednesday’s winners in the PIAA tournament while the loser sees their 2024 season come to an end.

Sadeeq Jackson led all scorers with 26, canning five 3s to continually bring his team within shouting distance, while twin brother Abdul Jackson added 17. Pottstown was undone by a poor night of foul shooting (5-for-17) but rallied repeatedly before fading late.

“I thought our first game against them, we played very well,” said coach Ken Ivory. “Tonight, we had chances. You don’t win games with foul shooting like ours against a team like this.

“But we’ve got one more chance to play in front of our home crowd. That’s the best thing we could ask for.”

No matter their snakebit status against Phoenixville, the Trojans have a chance to make their season an unquestioned success if they can right the ship on Saturday against Upper Moreland. A victory would mean their first trip to states since 2008.

“I take nothing away from them – they’re the PAC champs for a reason,” added Sadeeq Jackson. “But we did make mistakes – turnovers, missed free throws, to take us out of that game.

“For me, as a leader on this team, it’s about keeping everyone tight and together. We put in a lot of work to get to where we want to be, and that’s the state tournament.”

Pottstown’s Jurrell Young shoots for 3 in front of the Pottstown visiting section during the second half of a District 1-5A playoff game on Feb. 21 at Phoenixville. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Who knows, they could even see Phoenixville for a fifth time – because the Phantoms will be there for the first time in most of their players’ lives.

“It took a little while to get back into the swing of things after last week (the PAC championship),” said Burnett. “That bye gave us some extra time, enjoy it, and get back to work.

“It’s an incredible feeling. This is a special group that’s making goals and checking them off.”

Phoenixville 71, Pottstown 61

Pottstown     19   13   13   16   –   61

Phoenixville   19   17   17   18   –   71

Pottstown: Lyons 2 0-2 4, A. Jackson 8 1-4 17, Young 4 1 0-0 11, S. Jackson 5 5 1-3 26, Whitehurst 0 0-0 0, Booker 0 3-8 3. Totals 19 6 5-17 61.

Phoenixville: Booth 3 1 1-2 10, O’Donnell 0 2 0-0 6, Brown 2 3-7 7, C. Cervino 6 2 1-4 19, Baratta 4 3 3-4 20, Lebisky 3 3-4 9, McClintock 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 8 11-20 71.

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