Paul Croyle (left) and Trent Fisher led Pennridge back into the state tournament with a win over North Penn on Tuesday. (Photo: Josh Naso/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Pennridge guard Paul Croyle’s senior season hasn’t gone the way he had envisioned. But as his Rams continue their postseason march, he may have an opportunity to end it on a high note. He certainly took a step in that direction Tuesday night.
Things went off the rails for Croyle on December 26, when he broke his right foot. He watched as his teammates continued their push for the SOL Continental crown before returning to action on senior night January 31. Then, he sprained his left ankle early in that game, another setback to overcome.
Croyle didn’t get down, and even sees his personal journey as representative of his team.
“Couldn’t catch a break, but it just shows perseverance,” he said. “That’s what the team’s about, just staying strong through everything no matter what.”
Now, he’s just trying to do whatever he can to help the Rams win. For now, that means trying to provide a spark off the bench.
“Just coming back and starting to get back into the flow of the game a little bit,” Croyle said. “Just coming off the bench, bringing the team energy, doing what I can to just push the team forward.”
Croyle certainly did that Tuesday night in a District 1 6A second round playoff game against division rival North Penn in front of a raucous crowd and with a berth in the state tournament on the line.
With the Rams slowly gaining control of the game, Croyle came off the bench and provided an instant spark. His play in the second quarter was a major reason Pennridge was able to pull away from North Penn for a 55-41 win, qualifying for states for the third season in a row.
Head coach Dean Behrens was happy to have Croyle back and contributing.
“He’s like a microwave,” Behrens said.
After the Rams built a seven-point lead in the first quarter, Croyle entered early in the second and immediately knocked down a three. He missed his second attempt from deep, but then went to work inside, converting a pretty baseline pull-up before adding another bucket ahead of the halftime break.
If Croyle can continue that type of production, it adds another layer to an already balanced Pennridge attack.
Croyle’s contributions were big for Pennridge Tuesday night, but he wasn’t the only senior reserve to provide a boost. While Croyle was providing an offensive spark in the second quarter, Anthony Phillips was setting the tone defensively as North Penn managed just six points in the quarter. Phillips was tasked with defending Josh Jones, who had scored seven of North Penn’s 10 first-quarter points. Jones was limited to just two points in the second quarter thanks to Phillips’ efforts.
“Anthony did a great job on Jones in the second quarter. We made a switch there and Anthony Phillips did a great job defensively. I thought that was a huge, huge boost for our team,” Behrens said.
As important as the bench was to Tuesday’s efforts, senior Christian Guldin was the ultimate catalyst. Guldin finished with a game-high 22 points and seemed to get a big bucket for the Rams whenever they needed one. He did a fantastic job handling frenzied pressure from North Penn in the third quarter as the Knights tried desperately to turn the momentum.
“We’re fortunate to have a senior guard of that caliber. He put the team on his shoulder, he’s getting the most pressure obviously, and I thought he handled it tremendously,” Behrens said of his senior point guard.
Trent Fisher, another senior cog for the Rams, didn’t have his usual offensive game although he did have an and-one dunk that sent the crowd into a frenzy. He scored seven points, but his impact goes far beyond putting the ball in the basket.
“It wasn’t about Trent scoring tonight as much as about his defense,” Behrens said. “Because (Matt) Swanson really played great against us the last time that we were here two weeks ago. We really needed to shut Swanson down inside and I thought Trent did a decent job of that.” Swanson finished with six points.
In addition to the defensive effort, Fisher’s poise, vision, and passing ability in the middle of Pennridge’s press break was invaluable Tuesday night.
Jones was very good for the Knights (10-14), leading them with 16 points, but it wasn’t enough and North Penn will head to Council Rock South for the playback round as it attempts to claim one of the final two spots in the state tournament.
Behrens couldn’t be happier for his current group of Rams.
“I thought that was a big win for our program,” he said. “I thought that was a big win for these guys because last year most of these guys were on our varsity bench and really didn’t get to experience on the court as much. They watched what happened last year, here they are, they make a mark in our program, winning the SOL which has never been done before and now we’re going to states.”
Now, it’s time to see just how far Pennridge can go. Croyle is excited to find out. The Rams, however, face a daunting test on Friday when they take on top-seeded Methacton.
The Warriors boast an impressive 23-2 record with the only hiccups coming against Catholic League power Roman Catholic and a two-point defeat at the hands of Wilson. Their 23 victories have come by an average margin of 28 points.
Led by 6-foot-10, Colgate-bound big man Jeff Woodward, Methacton immediately presents a matchup problem for opponents. Add in the trio of Erik Timko, Brett Eberly, and Owen Kropp shooting and playmaking around the big man and the Warriors present nothing short of a nightmare.
Pennridge is aware of the difficulties presented by Methacton, but the Rams aren’t going to roll over.
“They’re the number one seed in the whole thing, I get it,” Behrens said. “But why not just go and compete, play as hard as we can?”
Croyle, meanwhile, is looking forward to the challenge. “We’re excited for it,” he said. “They’re the number one seed, they’re a great team, so I think we’ll be up for the challenge, we’re ready, just play with confidence we’ll be alright.”
Regardless of how things play out on Friday, the Rams know they’ll have another opportunity in the state tournament and remain focused on taking advantage of that opportunity.
“The beginning of the year, I think a lot of people were doubting us a little bit,” Croyle said. “I think our group here knows we have what it takes to do it again and we’re ready. We’re hungry for it, we’re confident in ourselves.”
Behrens will continue to preach his “one day at a time, get better tomorrow” strategy as the Rams look to keep rolling, and he’s excited about the opportunity in front of his team, but he’s also appreciating where the squad is at.
“If you told me at the beginning of the season this is where we’re gonna be, 19-6 with a chance to go to Temple, I’m taking it,” he said. “I’ll sign up for that any day of the week.”
North Penn: 10 | 6 | 12 | 13 | 41
Pennridge: 17 | 12 | 14 | 12 | 55
North Penn: Jones 16, Chaffee 8, Carangi 6, Swanson 6, Larkins 5
Pennridge: Guldin 22, Croyle 8, Pleibel 8, Fisher 7, Post 6, Yoder 4
District 1 6A Second Round Results
1) Methacton 66, 16) Council Rock South 41
8) Pennridge 55, 24) North Penn 41
4) Chester 64, 13) Haverford High 44
5) Lower Merion 63, 12) Central Bucks East 48
18) Downingtown East 55, 2) Garnet Valley 50
7) Bensalem 48, 10) Spring-Ford 45
3) Cheltenham 83, 19) Upper Darby 54
6) Coatesville 77, 22) Plymouth-Whitemarsh 60
District 1 6A Quarterfinals (Fri., Feb. 21)
1) Methacton vs. 8) Pennridge
4) Chester vs. 5) Lower Merion
7) Bensalem vs. 18) Downingtown East
3) Cheltenham vs. 6) Coatesville
District 1 6A Playbacks (Fri., Feb. 21)
16) CR South vs. 24) North Penn
12) CB East vs. 13) Haverford High
2) Garnet Valley vs. 10) Spring-Ford
19) Upper Darby vs. 22) Plymouth-Whitemarsh