LOWER POTTSGROVE — It’s all over.
Win or lose, Monday night’s District 1-AAA boys basketball playoff game was to be the final event ever in the Pottsgrove High School gymnasium.
“This environment, you can hear everybody in this gym. You can hear your parents, the fans … I love this gym,’ junior Nazhir Goldston said of Pottsgrove’s cozy gym.
It’s all over. For the gym. Not the team.
The Falcons closed their home floor on a high note, getting a clutch steal in the closing minute from Louie Gibbs before an even more clutch offensive rebound from Mike Fowler to seal a 52-48 victory over defending champion Holy Ghost Prep to advance to the District 1-AAA semifinals.
Goldston and Fowler had 15 points apiece, Fowler with seven in the fourth quarter alone, while junior reserve Gibbs gave a boost with seven points.
“Last home game, we wanted to end it on a good note. I don’t want my junior year to be over and I don’t want those seniors to go out on a bad note at home,’ Goldston said. “Those are my brothers. It was a good win to end on the last home game.’
Pottsgrove (19-6), the No. 4 seed, will hit the road for a Wednesday semifinal at 7:30 p.m. at Harriton High School against No. 1 seed Octorara.
Holy Ghost Prep (15-11) was led by 6-4 junior Joseph Braun’s 17 points, which included a dominant 10-point second quarter. Senior guard Liam Brennan contributed nine points on three 3-pointers.
Both teams experienced a more than 10-day layoff from their last outing before the start of districts. But the Firebirds were hit with a curveball this week as they were without head coach Tony Chapman, who was hospitalized in the preceding days with pneumonia.
“It was a hectic week so I have to give our kids credit,’ said assistant coach Bruce Simon, who noted Chapman has been released from the hospital. “We worked all week, all the coaches, with our gameplan so it wasn’t too much of a problem. We had to get the kids to step up and they did.’
Holy Ghost Prep most notably stepped up in the final minute with a bang-bang Michael Kirby layup, steal and Connor Rankin 3-pointer to turn a 49-43 deficit into a 49-48 game with 30.7 seconds remaining.
“They get the layup and then hit the 3 and the kids are back on their heels a little bit,’ Pottsgrove coach Scott Palladino said. “To their (Pottsgrove players) credit, they executed. We got a big steal at the end of the game with (Jaden) Wade jarring the ball loose and then Gibbs picked it up. And we made free throws down the stretch.’
Follow his crucial steal, Gibbs made the first free throw and missed the second, but Fowler soared up for the offensive rebound and then hit both his free throws to seal the 52-48 win.
“We’ve got guys,’ Goldston said. “You figure, Louie comes off the bench and he has like 28 3s the whole year, coming off the bench. He’s an excellent player who could be a starter on this team.
“And Mikey, he’s just a great athlete, All-Area Football Player of the Year. He can do it all.’
It was a classic size versus speed matchup with Holy Ghost’s front line all 6-3 and above while the Falcons countered with energetic, high-pressure defense.
“What has caused us problems all year is height inside and they used that to their advantage,’ Palladino said. “Braun, he’s tough. We told them he’s their best player and he’s going to go hard to the basket. We have to made sure we get a body on him and challenge shots.
“To our credit, we did a better job in the second half.’
After Pottsgrove took a 19-11 lead — sparked by a pair of Goldston 3-pointers — after the first quarter, Braun owned the second quarter. He scored all 10 Holy Ghost points in the frame from close range, exploiting his size advantage.
But in the second half, he managed just one field goal.
The Firebirds took their first lead at 26-25 on a Brennan 3 early in the third quarter and led again at 31-30. But the Falcons went on a 9-2 run — capped by Anthony Hedgepeth’s layup (five points) — entering the fourth quarter. The Falcons looked well on their way with Fowler’s basket which made it 49-43 with 1:00 remaining. But Holy Ghost made them earn it through the final minute.
“We have six seniors and they didn’t want their season to end tonight. And they played like it,’ Palladino said.
“It was a big win for us, last game here on this home court and we stressed that to the guys. We wanted to go out on a good note. And we did.’
NOTES — Braun also had 12 rebounds. … Falcons guard Wade had five points, four steals and three assists. … Both teams dealt with some foul trouble, Fowler sitting much of the second and third quarters and Goldston negotiated playing with four fouls down the stretch while HGP big man Andre Puleo also had to sit out crucial stretches. … Free-throw shooting — HGP was 10-for-20, Grove 9-for-16 — and turnovers were the difference, Simon said. “Foul shots were the difference. You expect to have some turnovers against a team that’s on you like they are, but we just turned it over too much.’