Methacton guns down Pope John Paul II for third straight PAC title

Photo by Austin Hertzog/MediaNewsGroup

BY DAVE KURTZ

ROYERSFORD – The die was cast nearly a decade ago, when a group of fourth-graders decided they liked playing basketball together.

It’s difficult to imagine what those elementary school boys had in mind when they first starting balling – impossible to envision the pure magic that would develop years later at the high school level.

“It was just me, Erik Timko and Brett Eberly back in the fourth grade,” said Methacton’s 6-foot-10 senior center Jeff Woodward, a Division I Colgate recruit. “Having fun was the most important thing back then, and we enjoyed playing together. It’s still that way.”

The pure enjoyment shared by that core group – joined by the likes of fellow senior Owen Kropp – reached dizzying heights again Tuesday night at Spring-Ford when the Warriors (22-2) captured their third straight Pioneer Athletic Conference championship with a 74-49 manhandling of Pope John Paul II.

Woodward’s double-double featuring 15 points and 14 rebounds led the way as Methacton, the No. 1 seed in the upcoming District 1-6A playoffs, completed a perfect 18-0 blitz through the PAC this winter.

There were other heroes during this lights-out shooting performance by the Warriors, who burned up the nets by hitting 59 percent (27-46) from the floor and 52 percent (15-29)  from beyond the arc.

Top guns included sophomore Brett Byrne (18 points, 6-10 on treys), Timko (18 points, 3-5 treys), Eberly (9 points, 3 treys, 7 assists) and Kropp (9 points, 2 treys, 3 assists).

It didn't start out so well for Methacton, which committed five early turnovers and trailed 8-6 after Drew McKeon scored in transition with 3:40 left in the first quarter. But then the turnaround arrived with tsunami-like force, the Warriors scoring 21 unanswered points spanning the first and second quarters to kick-start yet another coronation.

PJP went 9 minutes, 17 seconds without a point before Liam Haffey finally connected in the lane at the 2:23 mark of the second quarter. The Golden Panthers would not get closer than 20 the rest of the way.

“We started out playing poorly, turning the ball over,” said Woodward. “But once we settled in and began playing our game, it turned around for us quickly and we starting having fun.”

The good times were rolling as the Warriors went up 35-13 by halftime, and there was no chance they would be surrendering their throne on this night.

“We came out ready to play,” said Methacton coach Jeff Derstine. “It's not always easy playing every night with a bullseye on your back, and that's one of the challenges we faced all season. I was proud of how we played at both ends of the floor tonight.

"Offensively, we can play inside/out and the three is definitely part of what we do. It’s pick your poison with us. Defensively I thought we worked hard, communicated well and did a good job of contesting the perimeter, rebounding and getting out in transition.”

PJP coach Brendan Stanton knew the odds were long and that it would take an almost flawless 32 minutes to pull off the shocker for the Golden Panthers, who were led by Justin Green (17 points, 5 treys, 3 blocks), McKeon (10 points) and Jaden Workman (9 points off the bench).

“We really needed to shoot well, and we did make 9 threes, but Methacton made 15,” Stanton said. “We got stagnant, settled for some bad shots, and that all led to opportunities in transition for Methacton. We called a couple timeouts but there wasn’t much we could do to stop it.”

Unstoppable. That pretty much defines the three-year run of domination by Methacton.

“We are all unselfish,” said Kropp. “We grew up playing together and we always try to do what is best for the team. We try to move the ball and focus on doing our job.

“We knew that if we play the way we’re capable, we’ll come out with a win. We stuck with our game plan, pressured the ball, and got out in transition and converted at the offensive end.”

Beyond exceptional ability and unparalleled team chemistry, Woodward said there were other factors fueling Methacton’s rise to the top of area basketball circles.

“The first thing is trust,” said Woodward, citing a 24-0, two-year tour de force at Arcola Intermediate School that put the Methacton high school staff on notice. “We know each other very well. You saw that today, especially with Brett (Byrne), the way he stepped up. That is what we all expect of each other.

“The second thing is communication, whether that be at the defensive end or otherwise. The other thing is how we all play with determination. Winning is the main thing, and the first step is always to win the PAC.”

Check that one off the list. Now, Methacton will be looking to improve on last year’s run to the Final Four in the state playoffs – a 50-47 PIAA semifinal loss to Pennridge ending the longest postseason run in program history.

“I’m hoping we still have a lot of basketball in front of us” said Derstine.

FREE THROWS: PJP (18-6) is the No. 1 seed in the District 1-4A playoffs and will be off until Saturday, Feb. 22, when it faces the survivor of (2) Lower Moreland vs. (3) Springfield (Montco) for the district title and a berth in the state playoffs … As the top seed in District 1-6A, Methacton draws a first-round bye before squaring off with the winner of (16) Council Rock South and (17) Abington in the second round Tuesday, Feb. 18 … The Golden Panthers’ last appearance in the PAC championship game came during the school’s first year of operation in 2010-11 and resulted in a 51-45 conquest of Spring-Ford.

(1) Methacton 74, (2) Pope John Paul II 49