Erik Timko (above) and Methacton won their third consecutive PAC championship Tuesday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
ROYERSFORD –– The Methacton seniors took their turn with the Pioneer Athletic Conference championship plaque. Jeff Woodward, Erik Timko, Brett Eberly and Owen Kropp each got their chance to hold the hardware, cradling it, then turning to the sizable Warriors’ student section, thrusting the plaque towards the sky, eliciting a roar each time.
Those same students then flooded the court, surrounding the Warriors’ players as they climbed up the ladder, taking their snips of the nets at Spring-Ford High School for the third year in a row –– first the seniors, then the rest of the team, and finally the coaching staff and head coach Jeff Derstine, the students chanting his name.
It was the fitting end result of a night that didn’t feel like a championship game between Methacton and Pope John Paul II, but more like a coronation, one that’s been a long time coming.
The 74-49 victory took only an hour, but it was no fewer than seven years in the making.
“We’ve dreamed about playing at the high school level and winning the PAC,” Eberly said. “And what we did is awesome –– we dreamed of it, we succeeded, and knowing that we just did that three times in a row, (we’re) very, very joyful.”
“It’s really special to accomplish it with them,” added Timko. “They’re like my brothers, we’ve been playing together for a while, and it’s a great feeling overall to accomplish it with them.”
Timko, Eberly and Woodward first played hoops together in fourth and fifth grade, with Audubon travel basketball, and played together at Arcola Intermediate School.
“I think the first time we realized we could do something that was really special was after our eighth-grade year,” Woodward said. “Between our seventh and eighth grade year, basically the same key kids on the team, we went 24-and-0 in two seasons.
“And we realized at that point, we knew we could do great things.”
All the while, Derstine was watching his future 2020 class take place in Methacton basketball camps, from the time they were in elementary school. And though it’s easy enough to say in hindsight, Derstine swears he could tell there was something different about that group.
Jeff Woodward (above) had 15 points and 14 rebounds in the league championship game. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
It helps that Woodward, who’s now every bit of 6-foot-10, was already taller than his future coach by the time he got out of 5th grade.
“We saw that, and you could see the ball-handling and shooting skills of these guys at that age, too,” Derstine said. “I mean, who knows at the time, you can’t project everything, but we certainly saw there was talent in the mix.”
The trio was joined by Kropp in ninth grade, and formed the core of a program that has dominated the Pioneer Athletic Conference like no program has done in a few decades.
Methacton has been the team all year long in the PAC, the two-time defending champions with almost everybody back, save for East Stroudsburg freshman David Duda, their former sniper.
The Warriors went an unbeaten 16-0 against the rest of the league during the 2019-20 regular season, winning their last eight PAC games by no fewer than 23 points each, before stomping Phoenixville by 28 in the league semifinals.
It starts with Woodward in the middle –– and the Colgate commit contributed 15 points, 14 rebounds (six offensive), three assists and two blocks in the championship win in what’s become a typical effort for the hard-working post player.
But they’re so much more than a team with a talented big man: Timko (18 points vs. PJP) has developed into a scholarship guard in his own right, with a number of Division II programs pursuing the 6-3 guard, while Kropp (9 points/6 assists/4 rebounds) and Eberly (9 points/8 assists/5 rebounds) are both hearing from numerous D-III schools who love their similar abilities to hit shots, rebound, and distribute with equal competence.
The Warriors didn’t need Duda on Tuesday night, hitting 15 3s on 29 attempts, a shooting rate any college team would sign up for. Sophomore Brett Byrne had a career-best 18 thanks to hitting 6-of-10 from deep.
Brett Eberly (3) drives past a Pope John Paul II defender during Methacton's 74-49 Pioneer Athletic Conference championship win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
After an early 8-6 PJP lead, a 21-0 run by Methacton that spanned the end of the first and most of the second quarter created a gap that lasted the remainder of the game. The Golden Panthers (18-6) found their scoring touch in the second half, but the Warriors never cooled down.
“We just had confidence in ourselves and we had confidence in our games, just wanted to bring a bunch of energy,” Timko said. “Overall I felt like our confidence level was good coming into the game and that helped us with our performance.”
“We just settled in and we just played our game and I mean, we all have fun playing basketball,” Woodward said. “So when we’re playing the way we want to play, we have fun, and so I think that showed out there on the court tonight.”
The No. 1 seed in the District 1 6A field, Methacton has a week off before it renews its season, against the victor of Friday night’s Council Rock South/Abington matchup. Win that one, and they’re guaranteed a berth in the PIAA Class 6A tournament, where they advanced to the quarterfinals last year as the seventh seed out of District 1 before bowing out to eventual runner-up Pennridge.
There’s no doubt that these Warriors have the pieces to go even further in both districts and states this year, cementing themselves as the best team and class in Methacton history. But despite the loftier potential, winning the league was still clearly a big deal to the hometown kids.
“Right at the beginning of the year, the first thing we listed on the board before anything else was we want to win the PAC,” Woodward said.
“We always focus on the league because that’s where it starts, we’ve got to get started here and then we build onto that and go from there,” Eberly said.
At most, there are nine games left for Methacton’s seniors, nine games left in that nine-year journey, which began with three elementary school-aged, travel basketball teammates getting to know each other and bond over hoops. If anything else about their high school years apply to this final run, then it’s bound to be special.
“They’ve worked incredibly hard, they’ve earned everything that they’ve gotten so far,” Derstine said, “and I know they’ve got bigger aspirations to keep rolling here.”
Methacton: 11 | 24 | 17 | 22 | 74
Pope John Paul II: 8 | 3 | 20 | 18 | 49
Methacton: 27-46 FG (15-29 3PT), 5-8 FT
Pope John Paul II: 19-49 FG (9-27 3PT), 2-4 FT
Methacton: Byrne 18, Timko 18, Woodward 15, Eberly 9, Kropp 9, Hargrove 3, Baldwin 2
Pope John Paul II: J. Green 17, McKeon 10, Workman 9, K. Green 5, Haffey 5, Baron 3