Tyler Norwood (above) set the Penncrest all-time scoring mark as the Lions advanced to the Central League semifinal. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
When Mike Doyle took Tyler Norwood out of a Central League semifinal matchup against Upper Darby for the final time on Sunday afternoon, the Penncrest coach embraced his senior guard, then held him for a few seconds, whispering in his ear.
It was a meaningful moment at the end of a meaningful game, which not only saw the Lions down the Royals 52-39 to advance to the Central championship game for the first time since 2010 but also saw Norwood become the school’s all-time leading scorer.
When the 5-foot-10 guard scored his 16th point of the game, on a jumper midway through the third quarter, it was the 1,552nd of his Penncrest career, surpassing ‘95 grad Cory Johnson for tops on the school’s list, boys and girls. He finished with 22 points, just another average night for a guard who regularly scores more than half his team’s points.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Norwood said afterwards. “It’s an amazing accomplishment. When I was a freshman, I didn’t think I could ever be who I am today but...I don’t know. I’m just lost for words.”
For Norwood, it’s the latest in a line of accomplishments that already includes Central League Player of the Year and District 1 5A championships, won a year ago. He’s certainly a favorite to repeat as the former and the Lions are the top seed to defend the latter.
Just about everything Doyle thought the talented young guard could accomplish, he has, and then some.
“I was telling him, when he was in eighth grade, I talked about him coming to Penncrest, that these were the dreams and aspirations,” Doyle said afterwards, choking up slightly. “And just to see that really happen, it doesn’t always work out that way...I made some promises to him and he made some promises to me and that’s why I’m a little emotional because it’s rare that it works out that way, and it did, it did.”
Norwood said that Doyle actually made a packet for him when he was in high school, to help convince him to stay at his local public school instead of going to one of the area’s Catholic League schools.
“It’s like a seven-eight page packet, I think we still have it,” he said. “Just year-by-year, just said what I would do...and the one thing that wasn’t on there was ‘all-time leading scorer.’”
Norwood’s achievement wasn’t the only impressive number put up by Penncrest on Sunday evening at Marple Newtown High School.
Malcolm Williams (above) was a big part of an impressive Penncrest defensive effort. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Lions (21-2) blanked Upper Darby in the first quarter, the third time this season Penncrest has held its opponent without a point in the opening eight minutes; UD missed all eight of its shots to fall behind 9-0.
The Royals recovered to make it a three-point game at halftime, but the Penncrest defense was once again suffocating out of the break. The Lions opened up a 13-point lead by the end of the third as Upper Darby was 2-of-13 from the floor; by the time the Royals made a flurry of threes in the final two minutes, it was too little, too late.
Penncrest’s defensive effort, mirrored by a strong performance on the glass, was led by its three forwards; senior Chris Mills (2 points/5 rebounds), plus juniors Matt Arbogast (8 points/9 rebounds/3 blocks) and Malcolm Williams (8 points/7 rebounds).
“You forget how good they are, they get so overshadowed by Tyler, what he has accomplished,” Doyle said. “But remember, Malcolm and Chris are starters on a district championship team [last year] and they really don’t get a lot of their due. And it’s a tribute to them, they just come out and they just work and they play.”
Williams was primarily responsible for guarding Upper Darby senior Jalun Trent, who burned the Lions for 18 points in their previous meeting, a 48-44 Upper Darby win on Jan. 17. Penncrest’s 6-3 wing got the upper hand this time around as Trent missed all but one of his first nine shots, finishing with 13 points only after hitting two 3s and two foul shots in the final 90 seconds.
“We’re always practicing defense, going over other teams’ offense and stuff. And once we get into the game, it’s easy for us,” Williams said. “It hypes us all up. It just makes us feel good. The bench gets hyped, coaches gets hyped and the crowd gets hyped.”
Justin Heidig rounded out a strong effort for Penncrest’s starting lineup, as the senior guard finished with eight points, six rebounds and three assists.
In the Central League championship game -- to be held Tuesday night at Harriton, with the girls’ tipoff at 6 PM and the boys’ tipoff scheduled for 8 PM -- Penncrest will face Lower Merion, which earlier disposed of Garnet Valley 72-59.
The Aces took the teams’ only meeting this season, 67-59 back on Jan. 12. If Penncrest can reverse that result, it’ll be the Lions’ first Central League title since beating Ridley back in 2010, when Norwood was only in fifth grade -- well before the packet, well before any records.
A win would just about complete Norwood’s high school resumé, but it certainly won’t be easy against a Lower Merion squad that’s won plenty of league titles under head coach Gregg Downer, including just last season. The Lions aren’t worried.
“If you want to win,” Doyle said, “you’ve got to beat the Patriots.”