Whatever verdict the seeding formula spit out last Sunday, it was going to be hard-pressed to intimidate Penncrest.
After all, the Lions last season took the No. 28 seed in the District One Class AAAA Tournament, snaked through two overtime games, daunting road environs like Penn Wood and Lower Merion, and made their way to states.
So drawing the No. 21 seed and a date with No. 12 Spring-Ford this season may not seem too daunting. Few pieces from this year’s team experienced that run first-hand – Tyler Norwood scored seven points in the first-round win over Penn Wood, 56-53, in OT, but that was the most significant contribution.
That adversity sits at the heart of the postseason phase of the Lions’ season is perhaps no surprise. The last month has been an adjustment since losing leading scorer AJ Taylor to a finger injury Jan. 16 vs. Ridley (a game where the Green Raiders’ needed a last-second 3-pointer to eke out a 30-27 win).
Since Taylor went down, the Lions (13-9) have responded, wrapping up with five straight wins. Norwood has averaged 19.3 points per game in the last six games, upping his season average to 15.1. Shaun Norwood averaged 10.2 points per game in five games before being blanked in the season-finale against Springfield, which featured a career-high 22-point outburst by Peter Spiotta.
Spring-Ford (18-6) is no easy out, just as Penn Wood wasn’t last year. They’re coming off an emotional victory, a 54-48 overtime triumph against Perkiomen Valley in the Pac-10 title game thanks to a controversial technical foul with 1.1 seconds to play.
They’re lead by a pair of heady guards in seniors Matt Gnais and Nigel Cooke, while Spiotta will have a tall defensive task against 6-foot-5 Cam Reid.
The game presents a clash of styles. Penncrest prefers to control tempo of games in the halfcourt, particularly with Tyler Norwood’s maturing understanding of pace and the less explosive scoring sans Taylor. Penncrest has surrendered 41.9 points per game. Only one opponent has topped 60 points in a game (Lower Merion in three overtimes). Their regulation high is 55.
Spring-Ford, by contrast, is 11-1 this season when it hits 60 points. A game in the 40s could favor Penncrest; once that point total creeps up, the balance shifts toward the Rams.
Penncrest’s key to victory: Get someone who isn’t Tyler Norwood into double-figures. In 11 games this season in which either Justin Ross, Mike Mallon or Shaun Norwood has scored in double-figures, the Lions sport a 9-2 mark. That includes 4-0 when Ross gets there, though he’s only reached double-digits in two of the last 16 games.