Erik Timko (above, in Feb.) had 18 points to lead Methacton to another big win in the opening round of the PIAA state tournament. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Ari Glazier (@AriGlazier)
For the last month, the only experience the reigning District 1 6A champions, Methacton, have had in a tight game has come in practice. After losing to District 3 6A champions Wilson West Lawn on Feb. 1 by two points, Methacton has won every single game by 20 or more. In their first game since crushing Cheltenham by 25 in the district finals, the Warriors continued that streak, dispatching Harrisburg 64-38 in the first round of states.
Obviously it's a fantastic problem to have, but the issue of preparedness for end-of-game situations has crossed coach Jeff Derstine’s mind.
“We talked about it early in the season, understanding that we need to come out ready to go all the time,” Derstine said. “We do end-of-game situations all the time. We have an experienced group, so I’m confident in our guys, if we’re in a tighter game that we’ll be able to handle that.”
Methacton has the benefit of a starting five consisting of four seniors with plenty of postseason experience under their belt. Colgate-bound center Jeff Woodward and point guard Brett Eberly both took part in the Warriors’ 2018 PAC championship campaign, and guards Owen Kropp and Erik Timko joined them for a deep playoff run the following year.
This group has been together since middle school, where they went undefeated. Eberly, Woodward, and Timko go back even farther than that, to their youth basketball days.
“In middle school we all gained chemistry,” said Timko, who holds D-II offers from Bloomsburg and Shepherd. “We knew we could do something special...we’re a close-knit group. We all get each other’s games and understand each other, and where we’re gonna be on the court.”
Timko, whose father played at Ursinus, is a versatile wing, capable of scoring on all three levels, as well as playing solid defense. He showed up big against Harrisburg, dropping a game high 18 points on 4-for-7 from deep, as well as grabbing five rebounds.
“He’s got a complete game, but he doesn’t force things,” Derstine said. “I think his unselfishness has been huge for our team as well. He’s not gonna take bad shots and he trusts his teammates.”
The contest at Norristown Area HS initially looked as if it might have been a break from the usual Methacton rout. Harrisburg, the No. 6 seed out of District 3, kept the game within striking distance for much of the first half, cutting Methacton’s lead to just three points midway through the second, before the Warriors closed the quarter out on a 14-0 run.
Chief among the reasons for Methacton’s dominance after a competitive start was Woodward’s defense. He was the anchor of an effort that held the Cougars to just 21% from the field on 62 attempts. To Harrisburg’s credit, they were not afraid to test their luck driving into the 6-10 center, but he managed to avoid fouling while swatting away six blocks, all of which came in the second half.
“A lot of teams have tried to get me in foul trouble,” Woodward said. “We always preach just staying straight up, because we know teams are gonna do that.”
Woodward went on to call the team’s defense its most important and overlooked attribute. He singled out the perimeter defense of Eberly and Timko, which of course is made easier when you have a presence like Woodward on the inside.
He also snatched 18 rebounds and scored 13 points on six-for-eight shooting. Woodward’s work on the boards helped stifle the Cougar’s offense after they totaled eight offensive rebounds in the first quarter.
“Starting with the second quarter we really turned it on with defensive rebounding,” Woodward said. “That gives us transition opportunities, and we thrive on those.”
Aside from Woodward’s imposing play and Timko’s scoring, the Warriors also got a home court boost. The sizable Norristown gym was filled to the rafters, mostly with Methacton fans who made the ten minute drive to see their school pick up yet another resounding win. The same was true for at the Liacouras Center when droves of Methacton partisans made sure that the home of the Owls was mostly behind the Warriors.
Derstine made an effort to ensure that his team was ready to put the emotional highs of their victories on North Broad behind them as they move on to “the new season” of States.
It was exciting for us, the first time to win the District for our school,” Derstine, the 10th year head coach, said. “We took the Weekend, came back Monday and said ‘We’re not finished.’ From the beginning of the year, we set goals for ourselves and the last one on the list is to win a state championship.”
Methacton’s next hurdle comes on Wednesday against a 14-10 Lincoln team that narrowly edged out Benaslem on Saturday. It’s unclear if the Warriors will be able to steamroll through the rest of their state tournament opponents, which may include the only teams to have beaten them in Wilson and Roman Catholic, but the staggering margins of victory that Methacton has racked up again and again is more than enough to make them a favorite to go all the way.
Methacton: 24-45 FG, 10-23 3PT, 3-5 FT
Harrisburg: 13-62 FG, 2-15 3PT, 9-12 FT
Methacton: Woodward 13, Timko 18, Kropp 8, Eberly 7, Byrne 8, Hargrove 8, Penjuke 3
Harrisburg: Lee 13, Thompson 9, Dennis 7, McNiel 4, Natueur 5