LOWER MERION – Ben Stanton knew he had to seize the moment and be the hero.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Penncrest was beginning to wonder if it had enough left in the tank to beat crosstown rival Strath Haven. Somebody on the Lions needed to make a play when a once cozy, double-digit lead nearly evaporated.
The malaise began to set in during the middle quarters. Although the Lions were ahead comfortably on the scoreboard, there was a sense in the building that Haven was bound to go on a run.
The Panthers made things interesting and Penncrest almost unraveled. Even respected veteran head coach Mike Doyle, as cool as they come, briefly lost his composure when he received an unwarranted technical foul after one official failed to acknowledge his obvious call for a timeout.
It was the first time Doyle had been teed up in 11 years. The technical occurred immediately after Haven’s Luke Edwards stole an in-bounds pass and scored a layup to trim the Lions’ advantage to four points with 24 seconds to go.
“We needed a timeout there and I thought that was a really good call by our coaches,” said forward Justin Potts, who came up with a key defensive rebound in the final minute. “We just needed to relax.”
“We had to do what we needed to do,” added Marquis Tomlin, the senior floor general who poured in 14 points and sealed the win at the free-throw line.
But without Stanton’s play, who knows how things would have turned out for the Lions. With a chance to tie or go in front, Haven point guard Ibo Pio drove to the lane but was thoroughly denied by the sophomore Stanton, who leaped high to block Pio’s shot. Tomlin corralled the loose ball, got fouled, then made two foul shots with 10.8 seconds left to clinch a 48-44 Lions victory in the quarterfinal round of the Central League tournament Saturday at Kobe Bryant Gymnasium in Lower Merion.
In the first quarter, Stanton drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Lions a 17-4 lead. The sweet-shooting sixth man made a pair of foul shots in the final stanza and finished with seven points.
“I know I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,” Stanton said. “All that matters is we got the win.”
This was the third meeting between Doyle and his former assistant, Chris Conlan, who has done a great job in his first season at the helm of the Panthers.
“We knew they had a run in them and would make it interesting. We’re two teams that are exactly alike in a lot of ways, we are running the same plays out there,” Doyle said. “Conlan has done a great job with that team.”
“It’s always fun against them because we all know each other outside of school,” Tomlin said. “It makes the game a lot more fun and adds a lot of energy.”
Luke Edward paced the Panthers with 14 points, including 10 in the final quarter.
Penncrest will visit Strath Haven Monday night to play No. 2 Lower Merion in the second half of a boys and girls doubleheader. Tip off is slated for 7:45.
“I have the experience and I know what it’s going to take to keep winning,” Tomlin said. “We just want to keep it going and get ready for Monday.”