Jeff Woodward (above) had 20 points and dominated on the glass in Methacton's district semifinal win over Chester. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Kevin Callahan (@CP_KCallahan)
Midway through the third quarter, with his team up five points, Jeff Woodward chased a long rebound off his hand, and as the ball was going out of bounds, he lunged, smacking the ball ahead to a teammate.
Then, he hustled down the floor and worked his way down low to get the ball. He was fouled. He made both.
But what made the hustle play even more impressive was that Woodward is 6-foot-10. And, the senior center is already signed with Colgate University.
So, when the best player on the court, who already has a Division I scholarship, is playing the hardest, well, the trickle down effect is contagious … and how a team plays for a championship.
“There’s no other way to play,” Woodward said afterwards, drenched in sweat.
With Woodward anchoring the middle and sprawling along the sidelines at the Liacouras Center, Methacton overwhelmed Chester 81-54 in the second game of the District 1 6A semifinals Tuesday night.
“Anything I can do to help the team, whether that means sacrificing my body or sprinting up and down the floor, or doing every little thing that I can, it doesn’t matter if you’re the first guy on the team or the last guy off the bench, if you contribute like that, you are to be a very successful team,” Woodward added after scoring 20 points.
Woodward’s presence demands double teams, which allowed the Warriors to rip double-digit runs in each of the first three quarters to surgically slice up the Clippers.
“He is such a force,” Methacton coach Jeff Derstine said, “and he is such an unselfish player.
“If he’s open and gets the ball, he takes it strong, but he does a great job of passing the ball out. We need him to be that dominating presence all the time.”
Woodward will need to continue to play big as top-seeded Methacton advances to its first district title game with a matchup against third-seeded Cheltenham, a 77-60 winner over sixth-seeded Bensalem in the first semi.
“Cheltenham has a ton of talent and they are where they are for a reason,” Derstine said about the 6A championship matchup Saturday at 7 p.m. back here on the campus of Temple University. “We know they’re going to come out ready.
“They can really defend. We will study to film and get prepared and I’m excited about the opportunity.”
Fourth-seeded Chester (21-4) plays sixth-seeded Bensalem in a seeding’s game on Friday afternoon at the Clip Joint. The Warriors (24-3) lost to the Clippers last year in the PIAA playoffs.
“They had a lot of guys back from the team,” Derstine said. “We spent a lot of time the last two practices focusing on transition defense and keeping them off the offense of boards.”
With Woodward clearing the glass and chasing down long rebounds, the Clippers had just six offensive rebounds after 18 offensive rebounds last year.
“It’s pretty crazy, we are in foreign territory, I guess, for the program,” Woodward said about playing at Temple for the first time. “But, we played high level teams before so as a program, it might be a first time down here, but we’ve been in situations like this before and we’re just trying to go as far as we can.”
Earlier in the season, Woodward matched up against Roman Catholic’s 6-9 Jalen Duren, who is rated the No. 2 big man in the Class of 2022, and collected 11 points and eight rebounds in a respectable 59-52 loss to the Philadelphia Catholic League finalists.
“It just shows us the level teams we can hang with and compete with,” said Woodward, who led Methacton to its third–straight Pioneer Athletic Conference title.
Owen Kropp (above) and the Methacton guards work off Woodward and all can hit from the perimeter. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
The Methacton talented trio of senior guards - Brett Eberly, Owen Kropp and Erik Timko – as well as sophomores Brett Byrne and Cole Hargrove, all expertly played off Woodward. The spacing is exact and the cuts are timely.
The 6-3 Timko, whose father, Tim, played for Skip Werley at Ursinus College, scored 25 points in the historic win.
“It was huge because obviously this is the first time in school history we came to Temple,” said Timko, who recently topped the 1,000-point scoring plateau in just his second season playing varsity. “I thought we were all kind of excited and a little bit nervous to start, but once we settled down we played really hard and got into the flow.”
Methacton, which won its first two district games by double figures over No. 16 Council Rock South (66-41) and No. 8 Pennridge (69-46) scored the first basket of the game, but Chester ran off nine straight, forcing Derstine to call a timeout.
“I thought we came out a little tentative,” Derstine said. “Obviously, it was the first time playing in this atmosphere, in this venue.”
The Warriors answered with a 13-0 run in the final four minutes of the first quarter to grab a 15-9 lead. Hargrove came off the bench to hit a 3-pointer to make it 11-9 and the 6-5 forward scored the final points of the quarter.
“I’m really proud of how they responded and I’m not surprised that they bounced right back,” Derstine said.
Methacton ripped another late-quarter run to impose its will in the second quarter
Woodward tied the game at 18-18 with a free throw at the 4:30 mark and then Hargrove hit another 3-pointer. Woodward assisted on a layup before adding a pair of left-handed layups for a nine-point lead with 1:25 left in the half.
Methacton enjoyed a 13-0 run in the first quarter followed by the 10-0 spurt in the second quarter, but still only led 31-25 at the half.
“It was a new environment and I wasn’t used to playing in it,” Timko said, “but then we just kind of loosened up and played our game.”
Midway through the third quarter, Methacton’s lead reached nine points on a pair of free throws by Woodward and a driving layup by Kropp for a 44-35 spread with 3:21 left in period.
“In the second half, we started hitting shots and once we spread them out a little bit we got great balance as we have all season,” Derstine said. “These guys have been doing that all season long. They’re focused and playing together and pretty excited.”
With Woodward catching a breather on the bench in the final three minutes, the Warriors expanded their lead to 56-41 after three quarters on four-straight 3-pointers, including two by Timko.
“He’s such an unselfish player and he doesn’t force anything either,” Derstine said about Timko, “and when he’s open, he’s going to hit it.”
With Woodward rested, the lead quickly bulged to 63-41 on a two-handed dunk by the big man with 6:10 to play in the game. The run reached 17 unanswered points on a free throw by Kropp as the Warriors sat contently in their soft 2-3 zone to hold the Clippers scoreless for 4:27 seconds over the third and fourth quarters.
In addition to his soft hands around the basket, ability to run the floor and the hustle plays he makes, Woodward is also extremely impressive in just keeping his cool as he attracted constant attention when on the floor.
“I’ve had a really good travel coaches and you have to learn at a young age when you’re big that they’re going to bring doubles and triples and you’re going to have to learn how to pass out of it,” Woodward said.
Woodward’s composure is much easier to talk about then to live, especially in the postseason when every possession is magnified and intensified.
“He’s been through some wars the last couple of years and it takes a toll,” Derstine said. “We really work with him on keeping his hands up and he’s gotten so much better at keeping them high and playing through the contact.
“He ’s always had composure, but I think he’s really playing another level right now.”