Owen Kropp (above) and Methacton have won each of their three district games by 23 points or more. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
It’s time to decide who stands alone in the District 1 big-school classifications.
The Philadelphia suburban PIAA district –– consisting of all the schools in Delaware, Montgomery, Chester and Bucks counties –– has its 5A and 6A championship games this Saturday at the Liacouras Center, featuring the top seeds in each bracket and a couple challengers who both have what it takes to pull the upset.
For three of the four teams on the boys’ side, it’s new ground for programs that have either never been there before (Methacton) or are making their return for the first time in over a decade (Penn Wood, Cheltenham). So expect a few nerves at Temple University’s Liacouras Center on Saturday, but those won’t likely last for long.
The 6A finalists, top-seeded Methacton (25-2) and No. 3 seed Cheltenham (24-3), both got to experience playing in the 10,200-seat arena on North Broad street in their semifinal wins Tuesday night. Methacton struggled more out of the gate, falling behind by nine to Chester early, but rallied for another big win, 81-54; they’ve won each of their district games by at least 23 points.
“We got the jitters out, playing on that court right away,” senior guard Owen Kropp said. “As soon as we went into halftime, we were all kind of talking together, talking to each other how we have to put them away as soon as the second half starts.
“And then we went on that run, and once everybody’s hitting shots and playing together, we really work together as a team and feed off each other’s energy.”
Cheltenham, which beat No. 7 Bensalem 77-60 in its semifinal, got 24 points from senior wing Jaelen McGlone, a Rider commit, and 6-2 sophomore guard Justin Moore, an emerging Division I prospect. Pat Fleury’s bench goes four or five deep with some serious athletes, including 6-2 junior Mike McClain, 6-5 senior David Pope, 5-10 sophomore Saleem Payne and others.
“They’re a really athletic team, and they really are going to try to speed us up,” Kropp said. “I know they’re going to pick up full court and try to pressure us and speed us up, similar to what Chester does.
“They want to get into that hectic style of play and if we just play a half-court game with them, I know we can really excel at that.”
It’s not as if Methacton can’t play fast. The Warriors’ backcourt of Kropp, fellow seniors Brett Eberly and Erik Timko plus sophomore Brett Byrne can all light it up from outside and take it to the rack when the opportunity presents itself, and even 6-10 center Jeff Woodward’s gotten much better at getting up and down the court in the last few seasons, even pushing the fast break himself a few times.
The only two teams that have managed to stop Methacton this season were Catholic League runner-ups Roman Catholic and District 3 squad Wilson West Lawn; no other District 1 team has been able to make it happen.
“We’re really excited,” Kropp said. “We know what it’s going to be, and we’re really excited to get on the court, very anxious to play and do our thing.”
Andrew Carr (above) had 23 points and 12 rebounds, plus six blocks, in the semifinals. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The only team with championship game experience is the 5A top seed West Chester East (25-2), which lost to Sun Valley in last year’s 5A title game. The Vikings have largely a new rotation, save for two key pieces: seniors Andrew Carr and Tym Richardson, who carry a large percentage of the offensive load.
Carr, a 6-9 senior bound for Delaware next year, is the focal point for East, and a serious problem for No. 7 seed Penn Wood (16-7). But Matt Lindeman’s team is playing its best ball at the right time, riding an eight-game win streak into its first district title game since the Patriots competed in the 6A bracket in 2010.
“We haven’t seen that 6-9 all year, so it’s going to be a little different,” the fourth-year head coach and ‘98 Penn Wood grad said. “But the best thing about our kids is they just play, and it doesn’t matter who they play, they just like having fun and they play as hard as they can, so I expect we’ll do that again on Saturday.”
Penn Wood’s got a less-centralized offensive approach, though junior wing Jerry Flynn has been playing well during the winning streak. The 6-4 off-guard had 21 points and 10 rebounds in a 56-51 win over No. 3 seed Penncrest at Norristown High on Wednesday night. Sophomore Abdullah Dublin and senior Shamir Baynes can also put the ball in the bucket, and 6-4 forward Des Jonson gives them some size inside.
After beating the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds on their way to the championship game, Penn Wood’s confidence is riding sky-high.
“It finally clicked here these last two, two-and-a-half weeks,” Lindeman said. “It was just great to see the growth of our kids through this year just because we had so much inexperience, pretty much throughout our whole roster, especially on the varsity level.”
District 1 5A Championship
Sat., Feb. 29, 3 PM –– Liacouras Center, Temple University
1) West Chester East
Projected Starters: Mike Dedda (Sr./PG), Jack Kushner (Fr./SF), Andrew Carr (Sr./G-F), Tym Richardson (Sr./SG), Kieran Hefferan (Sr./SF)
How They Got Here: beat No. 16 Sun Valley (42-29), No. 8 Radnor (70-48), No. 5 West Chester Rustin (50-36)
7) Penn Wood
Projected Starters: Shamir Baynes (Sr./G), Jerry Flynn (Jr./SG), Saalih Moore (Jr./PG) Abdullah Dublin (Soph./SG), Desman Johnson (Sr./PF)
How They Got Here: beat No. 10 Academy Park (46-36), No. 2 Holy Ghost (69-59), No. 3 Penncrest (56-51)
District 1 6A Championship
Sat., Feb. 29, 7 PM –– Liacouras Center, Temple University
1) Methacton Warriors
Projected Starters: Owen Kropp (Sr./G), Brett Eberly (Sr./PG), Brett Byrne (Soph./SG), Erik Timko (Sr./SG), Jeff Woodward (Sr./C)
How They Got Here: beat No. 16 Council Rock South (66-41), No. 8 Pennridge (69-46), No. 4 Chester (81-54)
3) Cheltenham Panthers
Projected Starters: Travis Coleman (Sr./G), Brandon Scott (Sr./G-F), Justin Moore (Soph./G), Jaelen McGlone (Sr./SF), Sean Emfinger (Sr./F)
How They Got Here: beat No. 19 Upper Darby (83-57), No. 6 Coatesville (68-61), No. 7 Bensalem (77-60)