Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
Perkiomen School boys basketball coach Tom Baudinet was happy to see multiple Panthers volunteer for the go-ahead free throws Sunday afternoon.
However, he knew there was one choice to send to the line with one second left in overtime against George School in Sunday’s PAISAA championship at Hagan Arena.
“I asked. I said, ‘Who wants to shoot them?’ I wanted to see who wanted it,” Baudinet said. “It was good, like three guys wanted to, but the choice was Bobby. They were his to take. He’s been here four years. It was his moment.”
The longest-tenured Panther, Bobby Rosenberger, stepped to the stripe and knocked down two free throws to deliver the Panthers a 79-77 win over the Cougars for their first PAISAA title in program history.
“It was almost like a storybook ending to end my career here,” Rosenberger said. “It’s not over yet, but just to get to the playoffs and in the last moment just shoot the free throws like that, it’s really emotional and it means a lot to me how much time I’ve put into this program and how much I love this team, this coach and everyone in the program.”
Perkiomen School senior Bobby Rosenberger, right, hoists the PAISAA championship trophy on Sunday at Hagan Arena. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
The Panthers put the ball in Rosenberger’s hands just a few moments earlier with the hopes he could give them back the lead after George School senior Dante Weise came away with a steal and tied the game 77-77 at the foul line with 18 seconds left.
The lefty, whose base-line jumper tied the game in regulation with 44 seconds left, pulled up around the free-throw line for an open look that went off the rim. George School collected the miss and called a timeout with two seconds left — its last remaining timeout.
Hoping to pull off a miracle-like play, the Cougars got the ball to senior forward Kachi Nzeh right in front of the scorer’s table. After one second ran off the clock, the officials paused the game. As Nzeh appeared to step out of bounds, one of his teammates trailed the play, signaling for a timeout the Cougars didn’t have.
The officials got together and discussed the play, ultimately deciding on a technical foul and sending Perk to the line with one second left and a chance to all but seal a state title.
“We talked about it in the timeout that we didn’t have any timeouts left,” George School coach Ben Luber said. “And I’m saying, ‘No timeout,’ and I think one of our players who makes great decisions — it could have gone either way — I think they tried to call it and they could have let it go.
“They’re high school kids in a state championship game. It’s unfortunate. It’s a lesson I guess for the kids, but it was a hard way to end it.”
The Perkiomen School boys basketball team poses with the PAISAA championship plaque following Sunday's PAISAA title win over George School. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
On the other side, Rosenberger was happy to get a second chance at his storybook opportunity, making sure it ended with a happy ending this time.
“Once I got my second opportunity, I was just like, ‘I can’t let this slip through,’” Rosenberger said.
Roseneberger finished with 20 points, and sophomore guard Gabe Tanner added 19 for Perk. Junior guard Christian Bliss scored 29 and Nzeh had 21 for George.
Perk led 17-16 after one quarter, 36-32 at halftime and 52-51 after three quarters. While George briefly took the lead early in the fourth, Perk once again led 64-60 with three and a half to play after a 7-0 run that included a big three by junior Brant Byers. Bliss, who temporarily left the game after a hard fall, scored eight of the game’s next 10 points to put George back ahead 68-66 on a pair of free throws with about a minute left.
“I’m extremely comfortable with Christian next year and what he’s going to do for this program,” Nzeh said. “He’s a hard worker and one of the most talented guys I’ve played with in my basketball career and the guy I call one of my closest friends. I’m glad he’s here to continue to grow this program. A lot of people believe in him. A lot of people want to play with him.”
Rosenberger came down and hit a jumper after the Bliss free throws to tie it 68-68 and George had a chance to win, but didn’t get a shot off in time, sending the game to OT.
The Panthers jumped out first in overtime and built a 73-68 lead on a three by Macon Emory. Still trailing by five a few possessions later, George responded with six in a row this time,.going up for the final time in the game on free throws by Bliss with 1:36 to play. Sophomore Luke Melniczek hit a big three during the stretch.
Junior Demajh Salisbery, who finished with 13 points, gave Perk the lead back, 77-76, 30 seconds later before the wild end-of-game finish. With senior forwards Thomas Haugh and Preist Ryan, Perk’s two leading scorers, in foul trouble throughout and eventually fouling out of the game, Salisberry and Tanner stepped up in the backcourt. Emory and Byers, who added a late block in overtime, came up with big plays in lieu of the two frontcourt stalwarts.
“Gabe and Demajh were tremendous today, making so many plays because there was so much pressure on them to make plays with Thomas and Preist out for such long stretches.” Baudinet said. “It’s a good sign moving forward, kind of a little bit of a passing of the guard from our seniors to the guys who are going to be back leading this team next year.”
Perkiomen School senior Bobby Rosenberger runs to celebrate with the Panthers' student section following Sunday's PAISAA title win over George School. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Rosenberger’s been waiting for his moment for four years. While the 6-5 slasher and Saint Francis commit was the natural choice to help secure Perk its first title on Saturday, that was certainly not the case when he transferred from Quakertown as a long, lanky kid still trying to figure out his game.
He wasn’t that guy three seasons ago when the Panthers fell in the PAISAA semifinals to Westtown, nor was he that guy two years ago or even last season when Perk advanced to its first state title game.
There he was though on Sunday pumping his fist after two made foul shots and later hoisting the PAISAA championship plaque with his team, still clinching it as he walked into the postgame press conference.
“100 percent Bobby’s my guy,” said Florida commit Haugh, the second-longest tenured Perk player who’s been around the last three seasons with Rosenberger. “He’s been my AAU teammate the past two years, and just the steps he’s grown and what he’s going to do in college, I can’t wait to hopefully play against him and see him and watch him do his thing. He’s earned every part of this.”
George School has a special player itself in Nzeh who went from a gangly track runner with potential to a high-major recruit in his four seasons with the Cougars, set to play at Xavier next season. He transformed not just himself but George School basketball into a program that hopes to continue to compete for PAISAA titles year-in and year-out.
“I don’t really have words for Kachi Nzeh and what he’s done for George School basketball,” Luber said. “Most people never heard of George School, and the reality is they do now and Kachi has everything to do with it.”
“He’s given everything to George School, and I’m lucky to know him. Not only coach him, but know him because he makes others around him better and he’s helped me turn George School into this thing people call a power basketball program, and it’s impressive all he’s taken on.”
“This did not end the way we wanted it to end for sure, but I just want to put Kachi on the highest pedestal possible because he’s just first class in everything he does.”
George School 16 | 16 | 19 | 17 | 9 || 77
Perk School 17 | 19 | 16 | 16 | 11 || 79
George School: Christian Bliss 29, Kachi Nzeh 21, Carson Maston 12, Luke Melniczek 9, Dante Weise 4, Luke Bevilacqua 2.
Perk School: Bobby Rosenberger 20, Gabe Tanner 19, Demajh Salisbery 13, Thomas Haugh 9, Brant Byers 8, Preist Ryan 5, Macon Emory 5.