Zak Wolf (@ZakWolf22)
There are times where all a team needs is to see the ball go into the net once, and it can completely change the momentum of a game. After the first one goes in, the whole team's confidence gets boosted and they just keep on coming.
Milind Pulugura was the player who gave North Penn the boost they desperately needed in their 59-45 win over league rivals Souderton.
Milind Pulugura (above) helped spark North Penn past Souderton in a key game for district seedings. (Photo: Zak Wolf/CoBL)
Coming into the game, North Penn sat on the very edge of the District 1 playoff picture, ranked No. 24, with only 24 teams making the postseason. The Knights knew coming into this game that it would be a big opportunity against a team like Souderton, ranked No. 16.
For much of the game it looked like North Penn would squander that opportunity, coming out slow right from the start. A game in which the start time was moved all the way up to 3 o’clock due to inclement weather proved to throw North Penn off their rhythm at the start.
“I think just coming right from school we were a little off,” Pulugura said. “We weren’t playing in our usual time, but we knew if we kept on shooting that our shots would eventually fall, so we just stuck with it.”
The Knights scored just two points in the first quarter on one field goal, finding themselves down 10 after eight minutes of play. They got into more of a rhythm in the second, but still found themselves down nine at half.
Right from the get-go in the second half is when Pulugura helped change the swing of things. The senior big man drained two threes in a row, which started a 12-0 run in the first three minutes of the quarter to give North Penn a three-point lead.
“He got us going and from then on out, we just shared the ball really well,” North Penn head coach John Conrad said.
Pulugura finished with a game-high 20 points, 14 of which came in the second half. The senior hit three 3s and went to the line eight times, only missing one of his free throws attempts. Pulugura knew that his team needed some extra energy at the start of that second half,
“I felt like if I could lead and get my team some momentum then we could come back,” he said, “and that’s what I did.”
Pulugura came off the bench for North Penn last year, who squeaked into the playoffs and upset a couple teams in the first two rounds. The Knights made it to the district quarterfinals, before losing on a buzzer-beater to CB East.
Down the stretch, Pulugura knows what it takes to win important games late in the season after being on last year's team.
“Even though I came off the bench, I played and I knew what the playoff atmosphere was like,” Pulugura said. “I know the intensity, but you just have to be in the right mindset and make sure you’re making the right play.”
Despite the big run aided by Pulugura, Souderton had a run of their own and led 39-33 going into the fourth quarter. Jay Bonnet was huge once again for Souderton, leading them with 16 points. The senior knocked down four 3s, including one that was from NBA range in the second half. Aleks Smith added 11 points, but North Penn did a good job of making him work for his buckets inside and forcing him to take contested looks after good defense.
The fourth quarter was where North Penn turned the game on its head, outsourcing Souderton 26-6. Two things made the difference for the Knights: defense and free throw shooting.
North Penn shot 20 free throws in the fourth quarter alone, knocking down 18 of them. Ryan Deininger had eight of those attempts, only missing once, which gave him 16 points for the game.
“I thought our guards did a great job of attacking that zone, getting to the nail and that kind of caused their bigs to step up and commit some fouls,” Conrad said. “Milind benefited from that a lot, I thought Ryan Deininger, Mario Sgro, and Joey Larkins did a really good job of attacking that.”
Ryan Zeltt had seven points, all of which came in the second half, including a big trey in the fourth quarter. Larkins helped put the game away, hitting five of his six free throw attempts in the fourth.
North Penn’s last two games are against familiar opponents, facing off against league foes CB South and CB East. North Penn beat CB South earlier in the season and lost to East, but both games will be big tests and will have a playoff-type intensity to them.
“They know us just as well as we know them,” Conrad said. “I think they’re both going to be close games, and whoever plays well down the stretch will come out on top.”
Conrad knows if his team wants to win these games that they can’t keep falling behind like they did tonight and other times this season.
“We’ve got to get off to better starts,” Conrad said. “We've put a string together where we’ve fallen behind early but made some really good comebacks late. But I don’t want to make a living doing that and those are two really good basketball teams.
North Penn: 2 | 13 | 18 | 26 || 59
Souderton: 12 | 12 | 15 | 6 || 45
North Penn: Pelegura 20, Deininger 16, Zeltt 7, Larkins 5, Sgro 4, Wright 4, Gee 3
Souderton: Bonnet 16, Smith 11, Vinze 8, Purvey 6, John 2, Townsen 2
Souderton girls cut down the nets
It was celebration time for Souderton’s girls team as they wrapped up the Suburban One Colonial division title for the first time since 2019 thanks to a 45-27 victory over North Penn. Despite there being two league games left, Souderton was able to seal the league thanks to a 13-1 record in SOL play..
It wasn’t a walk in the park for Souderton with North Penn playing a gutsy first half, but the Knights just ran out of gas in the second. After a 9-0 run to start the game, North Penn was able to disrupt Souderton on offense, allowing them to sneak back into the game. Maddux Murphy hit a three right before the halftime buzzer to give North Penn a 21-20 lead going into the break.
Souderton was able to lock in in the second half and separate themselves thanks to good ball movement and active defense,
“We gave up six points in the second half, and honestly that’s what our team has been capable of all season, just locking in and playing great determined defense,” Souderton head coach Lynn Carroll. “Offensively, the way our girls share the ball, nobody cares about who scores, we just want the best look every time we come down the court, and that happened right from the start of the third quarter.”
Taya McConnaha took over in the third, scoring 9 of her 12 points in the quarter, which helped Souderton build a 14 point cushion heading into the third. Casey Harter played a key role as well, scoring 10 of her 15 points in the second half.
It was Carroll’s third Suburban One championship in her 18 seasons at Souderton,
“Last year we played at CB East, towards the end of the regular season, and they clinched it that night,” Carroll said. “While we were having our post-game talk, they brought out a ladder and started cutting down the nets and we quickly just talked about how we want to do that.”
Souderton isn’t done yet, with a chance at a District championship on the horizon. Carroll’s squad is ranked number two in District 1 6A, only trailing undefeated Plymouth Whitemarsh.
Souderton: 10 | 10 | 17 | 8 || 45
North Penn: 5 | 16 | 2 | 5 || 27
Souderton: Harter 15, McConnaha 12, Fenchel 6, Bohmveller 5, McGillan 4, McDonough 3
North Penn: Plaughler 7, Stone 6, Murphy 5, Sperling 3, Mikulski 3, Crowley 3