PHILADELPHIA >> It wasn’t like head coach Seth Berger and his Westtown squad had to win another state basketball crown to legitimize its status as a true dynasty.
But the Moose did just that on Saturday evening in the championship game of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISSA) Tournament at La Salle. Top-seeded Westtown outlasted a talented Perkiomen School team, 46-41, to capture the program’s fourth title since 2016.
“I’m glad we won, but in some ways it’s my saddest day of the year because it is my last day with them ever as a group,” Seth Berger said. “So these kids will have a bond that will stay with them for a lifetime.”
The Moose were able to successfully defend their 2020 championship as no tournament was held in 2021 due to the pandemic. And don’t forget, Westtown has also made four other final appearances going back to 2013.
“This is a blessing,” said senior Quin Berger, the coach’s son. “Our coaches always tell us not to feel the pressure to continue the legacy. But it was on everyone’s mind. It feels reassuring and exciting and all of the other emotions.”
The Moose (31-7 overall) led just about the entire way. And even though the Panthers (26-8 overall) made a late comeback bid, it was too late. Westtown did not connect from the field in the final five minutes plus, but still won it thanks to a significant input from its senior stars Berger and 7-foot-2 Dereck Lively.
“You can’t replace experience. We’ve played on this court three or four times, so we felt our kids would play more freely,” Seth Berger said.
“We’ve been here before,” Quin Berger agreed. “We understand that at the end of the day, the court is still 94 feet, the hoop is still 10 feet tall, and the free throw line is still 15 feet.”
And thanks to some excellent defensive work — especially by another senior, Jameel Brown – the Moose prevented Perkiomen’s standouts from doing much damage. Panthers’ star Ryan Dunn scored just five points (and made just one field goal) with Brown hounding his every move. Dunn has signed to play college ball at Virginia. And Princeton-bound Xaivian Lee was held to a team-high 11 points.
“We knew if we focused on defense, the offense would translate,” said Lively, who has signed to play at Duke.
“Jameel has been a lockdown defender for a long time,” Quin Berger added.
Berger buried five 3-pointers on the day, and on the rare occasion he missed, it seemed like Lively was there to slam home the rebound. Berger finished with 17 points, Lively added 11 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots, and Brown chipped in with eight points and hauled down nine boards.
“My dad said, ‘now I can just be your dad,’ because this was the last time playing for him,” Quin recalled. “It made me cry.”
A drive and bucket by Brown and junior Seyphon Triplett put the Moose in front 44-33 with 5:10 to go. It was to be the final bucket from the floor, however, as the Panthers made a late move. Missing the front end of two one-and-ones didn’t help, and then Perkiomen’s Sam Pohlman hit a 3-pointer to cut the margin down to three with 4.9 on the clock.
Quin Berger was quickly fouled, and then calmly made both free throws to end it.
“We were stuck on 44 for a long time, and (Perkiomen) is a really good defensive team, but we pulled it out,” Quin Berger said.
Berger and Lively set the tone early, and sparked a 15-4 Westtown run to end the first quarter. And when Dunn was whistled for his second foul, and had to sit out the final 4:31 of the second, the Moose proceeded to open a 30-19 advantage at the half.
“Westtown did a good job game planning for us,” said Perkiomen head coach Tom Baudinet. “We didn’t play particularly well and didn’t deserve to win the game. So credit goes to Westtown.
“I am surprised how poorly we performed in the first half. I kept thinking we would come back, and it was too little, too late.”
With state titles in 2016, 2017, 2020 and now 2022, Westtown has reigned over the state in four of the last six times the tournament has been held.
“We won 20 of our last 21 games, and our only loss in the last 14 was against Sunrise Academy, the No. 1 team in the country, we won our eighth league title in a row and now a state title,” Seth Berger recounted. “As Dereck (Lively) likes to say: ‘We won all the chips.’”
Lively added: “I am definitely going to remember this day for a long time.”
Westtown 46, Perkiomen 41
Perkiomen 10 9 12 10 — 41
Westtown 18 12 10 6 — 46
PERKIOMEN – Pohlman 3 0-0 8; Lee 3 4-4 11; Dunn 1 2-2 5; Dembele 2 0-0 4; Haugh 4 0-0 8; Rosenberger 2 1-1 5. Totals 15 7-7 41.
WESTTOWN – Lively 5 1-1 11; Berger 5 2-3 17; Brown 4 0-0 8; Triplett 2 0-1 4; Mayock 2 0-0 6. Totals 18 3-5 46.
Three pointers: Pohlman 2, Lee, Dunn, Berger 5, Mayock 2.