Zak Wolf (@ZakWolf22)
Pheonixville found themselves in a familiar position against Perkiomen Valley in the first round of the Pioneer Athletic Conference playoffs. The Phantoms are accustomed to getting off to hot starts this year and then falling asleep for portions of the game, and Wednesday night was no different.
The fifth-seeded Phantoms were able to defeat the fourth-seeded Vikings 53-44, but they didn’t make it easy on themselves.
Phoenixville led by 10 at the half, but in the third quarter Perkiomen Valley made a big run to cut the lead to 38-37 heading into the final quarter.
Jackson Kuranda (above) and Phoenixville closed strong to advance to the PAC semifinals. (Photo: Zak Wolf/CoBL)
“We’ve taken leads into halftime all year long and we just have to come out in that second half ready to go,” Phoenixville head coach Eric Burnett said.
The Phantoms got into the lead thanks to some hot shooting from the outside, draining four threes in the first half, two of which came from senior forward Jackson Kuranda. Kuranda was confident all night and it showed when he hit his second three from way beyond the arc.
“He’s been playing great basketball,” Burnett said. “He rebounds the ball, he goes after it, he’s the ultimate leader on the court. That’s what you look for in a senior like that who’s been in these games and been on some of these teams that have been in the playoffs.”
Perkiomen Valley eventually took the lead thanks to a Vance Sadler 3-pointer, which put the Vikings up 40-38 a couple minutes into the fourth quarter. Sadler caught fire in the second half, hitting three of his four 3’s in the second half, finishing with a game-high 18 points.
After Perk Valley took the lead, it was Kuranda who came up with a huge play to swing the momentum back in Pheonixville’s favor. Kuranda came up from behind and stole the ball when his opponent wasn’t looking, which led to a wide open layup to tie the game up.
“He was there and had no idea where I was,” Kuranda said, “I knew he was going to catch it with his outside hand and I could get my hand under it and go coast to coast.”
From there, Phoenixville finished the game on a 13-4 run which sealed the win.
Kuranda finished with a team high 14 points to go along with a couple of key defensive rebounds down the stretch. Senior guard Zavier Mayo scored 13 and big man Gabe Massenburg scored eight.
After splitting the two games against them in the regular season, Phoenixville will face off against Pope John Paul II in a rubber match to decide who goes to the PAC championship game.
“Emotions are going to be high, both teams know each other really well, they’re always well prepared and coached,” said Burnett. “Key is to manage those emotions, manage that big game and have some fun”
Phoenixville: 17 I 13 I 8 I 15 II 53
Perk Valley: 12 I 8 I 17 I 7 II 44
Phoenixville: Kuranda 14, Mayo 13, Massengburg 8, McDonell 6, Stec 5, Bruni 5, Lebisky 2
Perk Valley: V. Sadler 18, Debebe 14, Pelzer 5, Kohler 5, Hansen 2
Game Two: Norristown vs Upper Merion
Even if there would’ve been playoffs for the Pioneer Athletic Conference last year, Norristown would not have been a part of them. The Eagles didn’t have a season and had to pretty much start from scratch heading into this year.
Norristown only had three players who had gotten some taste of varsity basketball before this year, but as the year has gone on they’ve gotten better. Their 62-40 win over Upper Merion in the first round was their fifth straight.
Myon Kirlew (above) had 21 points as Norristown topped Upper Merion. (Photo: Zak Wolf/CoBL)
“I told the guys we’re playing from January on,” Norristown head coach Binky Johnson said. “November, December, we were really just trying to find ourselves, get acclimated to what varsity speed and everything.”
With most players coming from the J.V level it took some time, but the Eagles are getting hot at the right time. Sophomore Myon Kirlew had last played eighth-grade basketball before this year, but he looked right at home in the game Wednesday.
Kirlew scored a game-high 21 points in Norristown’s win. Kirlew got hot in the second quarter, hitting three of his four 3-point attempts. After that, Kirlew decided to drive the ball inside, showing off his strength and ability to finish through contact.
“We’re not even surprised by this, the work he puts in is a testament and it carries over to the games,” Johnson said.
Kirlew wasn’t rushed into a starting role for the Eagles, but has played his way into one as the season’s gone on.
“When I first started it was pretty fast,” he said, “but it has slowed down as the games have gone on.”
The Norristown guards did a great job all night of being physical on both ends of the floor. D.J Johnson was able to get downhill, scoring eight of his 10 points in the first quarter. Like Johnson, Zaki Gomez did a good job of getting into the lane, but he also showed his range, knocking down a couple threes. Gomez finished with 15 points on the night.
The Eagles were able to create separation in the second half thanks to some solid defense. They got into passing lanes, creating a multitude of turnovers, which led to run outs on the other end.
Ty Jones did his best to keep Upper Merion in the game, with 13 points, but Norristown was able to shut him down in the fourth quarter, holding him scoreless.
Norristown now finds themselves up against the top seeded Methacton Warriors, who already beat Norristown twice earlier in the season, both by double digits. The Eagles have a chance to knock off one of the best teams in District 1, but it won’t be easy.
“We have to stay consistent,” Johnson said. “The key for us in the postseason is to take care of possession of the basketball and play 32 minutes of defense. Throughout this run, we’ve been putting together maybe 25, maybe 28, so our key in the postseason will be putting together 32 minutes of disciplined basketball.”
Norristown: 15 I 18 I 12 I 15 II 62
Upper Merion: 15 I 13 I 8 I 4 II 40
Norristown: Kirlew 21, Gomez 15, Johnson 10, Mitchell 8, Dinolfi 4, Gaymon 2, Williams 2
Upper Merion: Jones 13, Lawson 9, Etheridge 7, Tatom 6, Hirshorn 5