By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
The Pioneer Athletic Conference semifinals didn’t possess the same drama as some of the other league postseason games this weekend, but Tuesday’s boys championship game between Spring-Ford and Phoenixville and Wednesday’s girls title game between Perkiomen Valley and Spring-Ford are set up to be heavyweight bouts.
There’s a lot of experience for three of the teams as the Spring-Ford boys and Perk Valley girls are both defending their league crowns, and the Rams girls are going for their third PAC championship in four years. The Phoenixville boys are back in the league championship for the first time since 2007, when they last won the league title.
The PAC’s boys will play at Perkiomen Valley High School on **Wednesday at 7 p.m.***, while Spring-Ford hosts the girls title game on **Thursday at 7 p.m.** Here’s a closer look at the title games:
Phoenixville sophomore Dawson Brown is in his second year as a starter. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Boys: No. 1 Spring-Ford (18-5) vs. No. 2 Phoenixville (17-6)
Spring-Ford 72, Phoenixville 65 (Dec. 21 @ Spring-Ford)
Phoenixville: G Dawson Brown, G Deacon Baratta, G Christian Cervino, F Maxi Lebisky, F Aidan McClintock
Spring-Ford: G E.J. Campbell, G Jacob Nguyen, G Jake Delangello, F Tommy Kelly, F Oben Mokonchu
Phoenixville’s depth stands out. The starting five is all back from last year and the chemistry is apparent as they share the ball effectively. Senior Max Lebisky, a point forward who has become a takeover scorer this season too, leads the way, but Deacon Baratta and Dawson Brown can both flirt with 20-plus, as they showed in a semifinal win over Pottstown. Cervino can score it too and off the bench freshman Keron Booth can provide a spark. There’s a variety of ways the Phantoms can beat you on the offensive end.
Spring-Ford’s backcourt duo of Jacob Nguyen and E.J. Campbell is up there with the best in District 1. They can both take over games, and they’ve done it in big ones before during the Rams' PAC title, District 1 championship game and PIAA semifinal runs last season. Nguyen, a 6-4 sharpshooter, and Campbell, a 6-2 point guard, both scored 20 in the first matchup against the Phantoms this season. Nguyen poured in 25 and Campbell 17 in last season’s PAC championship game.
Keep an eye on
Phoenixville has an edge in experience inside with Lebisky (6-5) and senior Aidan McClintock (6-6), who wore a ripped pinny all season if you want a symbolic measure of his play style. The battle down low could be an advantage for Phoenixville it didn’t have in the first matchup with Rams’ junior forward Matt Zollers out (foot), though Spring-Ford junior Tommy Kelly (6-5) is a bouncy athlete and sophomore Oben Mokonchu (6-5) is a promising talent for the Rams. Both teams will need their frontcourts to stay out of foul trouble and provide an edge on both ends.
An anonymous coaches’ viewpoint
“Spring-Ford’s incredibly well coached, Joe Dempsey is one of the best in all of high school basketball. E.J. Campbell is one of the best guards at controlling the pace and the shot making of Jacob Nguyen creates a lot of challenges for defenses. Eric Burnett has done a fantastic job. Phoenixville is arguably the most unique team in the Pioneer Athletic Conference. The combination of their size and length, coupled with great skill, makes them a hard match up for any team. Max Lebisky is as tough a matchup as you will find at any position in all of District 1. Overall, both are great teams, and can beat you in a number of ways. Both very well coached.”
Spring-Ford senior Aaliyah Solliday was injured for last season's title game. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL File)
Girls: No. 1 Perkiomen Valley (22-1) vs. No. 3 Spring-Ford (20-4)
Perkiomen Valley 61, Spring-For 48 (Jan. 12 @ PV)
Perkiomen Valley 56, Spring-Ford 48 (Feb. 2 @ Spring-Ford)
Perkiomen Valley: G Bella Bacani, G Julia Smith, G Lena Stein, G/W Grace Galbavy, F Quinn Boettinger
Spring-Ford: G Anna Azzara, G Aaliyah Sollidady, G Mac Pettinelli, G/W Katie Tiffan, F Kareena Preuss
Pick your poison with PV. Junior 6-foot wing Grace Galby and junior 6-3 forward Quinn Boettinger (Navy) are matchup nightmares on both ends and in the backcourt Bella Bacani is a terrific ball handler with Julia Smith and Lena Stein complementing her well. Don’t forget a deep bench with junior forward Grace Miley and senior guard Anna Stein (Kutztown) not providing any drop off. PV’s defense can be suffocating. Galbavy and Boettinger make it extremely difficult to beat them inside and Lena Stein can lock up an opponent’s top player on the perimeter.
The Rams’ perimeter shooting can be game changing, shooting an impressive 38 percent from deep as a team this season. Senior guard Aaliyah Solliday was out injured for last season’s championship game but she’s a microwave shooter with seniors Anna Azzara (Wright State), Katie Tiffan (Lynn College), Mac Pettinelli (St. Bonaventure) and Siena Miller off the bench all capable of getting hot. Spring-Ford hit eight threes in the overtime loss to the Vikings earlier this season, compared to just two for the Vikings. PV hit seven in the first win, compared to five for the Rams.
Keep an eye on
These two teams are both familiar with each other and the stage, playing in front of packed gyms twice already this season. They’ve had practice, but it will still be about handling those times of adversity, which team can ride momentum for a run and which team can halt it. Free throw shooting plagued Perk Valley at times last season, but it’s become a source of strength for the Vikings this season with the top seven members of the rotation all shooting at least 70 percent from the stripe and three shooting 80 percent or better. That could be a factor down the stretch as well.
An anonymous coaches’ viewpoint
“I enjoy watching this matchup, not only because they are the two best teams in the PAC, but I also feel the best two teams in District 1. I believe we will see them play in a few weeks for that championship. I also think they are two of the best teams in the state. In this matchup, we will see two different styles of play, PV being a bigger, more physical team, against Spring-Ford, playing a more fluid game. Both teams have their star players who will shine in this game, but it will also come down to the other starters and the sixth man. These teams know each other extremely well, but in this game I think it goes beyond basketball as Spring-Ford, a primarily senior led team, will want to go out on top as champions. Even being the No. 3 seed, they have a chance to do it on their home court. PV coming in the last few years as the new team to watch, will be out to continue to show and dominate the league and even as the No. 1 seed, will have the opportunity to win the title on Spring Ford’s home court.”