Mike Doyle (above) and Penncrest's season came to an end last night, 42-40 against Pittston Area. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Josh Naso (@JoshNaso)
All good things must come to an end. It’s a fact of life we’re all aware of, but that never makes those ends any easier to deal with. And it’s a feeling that’s all too real right now for the Penncrest Lions.
And the Lions certainly had it good, thanks in large part to a decorated senior class. The quartet of Marquis Tomlin, Aiden Carroll, Justin Pitts, and Denzel Quinn were a part of four trips to the state playoffs, and in 2019-20 won 22 games and advanced to the Central League title game despite losing its top three leading scorers, including all-county guard Malcolm Williams.
But it all came to an abrupt end Friday night in the first round of the PIAA 5A state playoffs against Pittston Area High School in a crushing 42-40 defeat.
Things couldn’t have started better for Penncrest, who deployed smothering defense while Tomlin sparked the offense with seven first-quarter points, hitting his first three shots. At the end of the period, the Lions held a 14-2 lead.
As well as things went in the opening period, it was the complete opposite in the second. Pittston started to employ a pressing, trapping defense while selling out to prevent Tomlin from getting the ball, and doubling him every time he did manage to get it. As a result, the turnovers started piling up and some easy baskets helped to awaken the Pittston offense.
“We got sped up 100%,” said Penncrest head coach Mike Doyle as he shook his head. “We got soft...we let up, and that was disappointing.”
By the time the halftime buzzer sounded Penncrest had been outscored 17-5 and found itself in a 19-19 tie.
“They had a run and jump defense that sped us up, and that was their game plan and it worked to perfection for them,” Carroll said.
The momentum shift was palpable in the Souderton High School gym, as the once-raucous Penncrest supporters were stunned into silence while the Pittston contingent delighted in the opportunity to start the second half even on the scoreboard.
Fittingly, another senior helped slow the onslaught in the third quarter. Denzel Quinn checked in early in the period and drew the defensive assignment of Logan Booth, who had terrorized the Lions in the second quarter.
“Denzel came in and provided instant energy, rebounded the ball, played solid D, and you know, some games he played, some games he didn’t play at all,” Dolye said of Quinn’s third-quarter effort. “To his credit he came every day and he was ready to go, and he was ready to go tonight.”
With Quinn slowing Pittston’s main offensive threat, the third quarter proved to be sloppy one with the Lions emerging with a slight two-point advantage. And it set the stage for the kind of ending you expect from March basketball.
Both teams found the offensive rhythm that had been so elusive for much of the night and proceeded to trade blows for the final eight minutes.
Carroll, who had been held scoreless through three quarters, came to life. He knocked down a pair of 3’s, then hit a pair of free-throws after a Tomlin 3. But Pittston had an answer in Andrew Krawczyk, who came up with big bucket after big bucket down the stretch.
It’s not surprising, then, that when the Patriots came out of a timeout with 43.7 seconds to go, the ball eventually found its way to Krawczyk or that he converted and was fouled. He calmly sank the free-throw with 16.8 to play and Pittston had a two-point lead.
Penncrest would manage two decent chances before the final buzzer. After missing a layup, the Lions fouled Brennan Higgins to set up a one-and-one. He missed the front end and Penncrest secured the rebound, calling timeout with just 4.5 seconds left. Tomlin got into the lane and had a fantastic look from close range, an attempt that rolled tauntingly around the rim before falling harmlessly into the hands of a Pittston player as time expired.
“It felt good coming out of my hand. I was trying to get like a good finger roll, unfortunately it just didn’t go in,” Tomlin said of his last second attempt.
For the Lions, it will take a while for the sting to ease.
“The seniors are absolutely crushed. There’s tears, there’s tears flowing down their faces,” Doyle said.
Carroll wrestled with the suddenness and finality of it all: “It hurts. It just hurts seeing all these four years just vanishing at the snap of fingers, and just all the work you put in and the relationships we’ve had and it’s just hard that we won’t play again.”
While the seniors know they’ve left a legacy at Penncrest, it was too difficult to reflect on that in the immediate aftermath of the narrow defeat.
However, the group won’t let the pain and disappointment stop them from attempting to pass something on the next group in hopes that the program can continue to build on the foundation that has been laid, just as they have built on the work of players like Tyler Norwood and the aforementioned Williams.
“I just told Ben (Stanton) and Denzel (Atkinson-Boyer) and Saahir (Lee) that they gotta keep this going,” Tomlin said. “Me and Aiden built a lot into this program, put hours and hours and hours into this game, and to get back to here, sold out gyms and all that stuff, they gotta be built for that. And that comes from working in the gym and getting ready.”
Doyle agrees that the importance of hard work will be the foundation of the legacy left behind by this senior group: “Just the idea that it doesn’t come easy, that you don’t just run the balls out, like you gotta get in the gym, you gotta work, and you gotta work hard.”
Carroll has a succinct message for the next group of Lions: “Keep that winning mindset and keep progressing.”
Pittston Area: 2 | 17 | 5 | 18 | 42
Penncrest: 14 | 5 | 7 | 14 | 40
Pittston Area: Booth 17, Krawczyk 11, Walsh 6, Higgins 5, George 3
Penncrest: Tomlin 12, Atkinson-Boyer 10, Stanton 9, Carroll 8, Lee 1