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PAISAA: Tanner, Perkiomen School shine against Phelps for second straight championship

03/03/2024, 10:15pm EST
By Owen McCue

By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

HAWK HILL — Perkiomen School junior Gabe Tanner has made the trip to Hagan Arena at least three times now in the past calendar year.

The first one ended in a PAISAA championship. The second came on a visit this winter to see St. Joe’s play after they offered him a scholarship over the summer. A third trip treated Tanner well once again. 

Taner scored 19 points off the bench and dribbled out the final seconds of a 77-67 win over Phelps School in Sunday’s PAISAA title game at Hagan Arena before he and his teammates hoisted the championship plaque for the second straight year.

“Coming back for two years in a row, I was definitely more comfortable being here," Tanner said. "I was already acclimated, I could say, and the pressure really didn’t get to me. I just played my game and let the game come to me.”

The Perkiomen School boys basketball team poses together after winning its second straight PAISAA championship over Phelps School on Sunday. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Last year was the breakthrough season for Perkiomen School and coach Tom Baudinet, who is now in his eighth year. After falling to Westtown in their first PAISAA championship game appearance in 2020-21, a win over George School, in which Tanner also scored 19, delivered the program its first PAISAA championship since the tournament began in 2007.

The Panthers graduated about 70 points per game from that squad through the likes of Thomas Haugh (Florida), Bobby Rosenberger (Saint Francis) and Preist Ryant (Coppin State).

Sunday Perk got 18 points from senior Alex Zakheim, a Brandeis University commitment, and 10 more from senior Torin Bosch — both new additions. However, the two biggest returners also shined as Tanner and senior Delaware recruit Macon Emory, who finished with 13 points, both had terrific games to hoist the championship plaque once again.

“The mindset in defending it was we came here and took it last year and these guys are trying to take it from us, so we can’t let that happen, we’ve got to defend our title, defend our chip,” said Emory, who also won a pair of state titles at Blue Ridge High School in Virginia before arriving at Perk this season.

Tanner was sidelined with a back injury through Perkiomen School’s first three games of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) tournament. He returned to the floor in an Elite Prep League game last week in limited minutes and started the game on the bench Sunday.

Zakheim helped Perk out to a 33-21 lead with a little more than two minutes left in the first half after his third triple of the second quarter. After eight unanswered points from Phelps, Zakheim beat the first-half buzzer to give his team a 35-29 at the break. He had 11 in the second quarter alone.

Perkiomen School junior Gabe Tanner scored 19 points on Sunday. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

“Since the start of the year, coaches and the guys have always told me to shoot,” Zakheim said. “There were patches during the year where I just wouldn’t shoot it and I just had that confidence, the first one went in and it’s like the rim’s way bigger than it normally is. Hand down, man down, so that’s what it was feeling like today after the first one went in.”

Tanner was the Panthers’ backcourt spark in the third. He had 10 in the period and added an assist to Emory to put Perk up by 12 late in the quarter before the Panthers went into the fourth with a 58-48 lead.

Phelps trimmed the Perk lead down to four on a dunk by Jordan Rogers (eight points) midway through the fourth. However, that’s as close as it would get as Tanner quickly responded with a triple at the other end. 

Tanner had 15 of his 19 points and two of his three assists in the second half.

“You’re going to have key guys out. That’s the whole point of having great depth, and that’s something we’ve built here over the last four or five years,” Baudinet said. “... But you also know that for the biggest games at the end of the year, you need, if possible, your best players to be playing.

“His presence, his poise on both sides of the ball, his shot-making too, he made some big plays for us particularly in the third quarter there, and made some really huge shots. Just he’s a calming presence for us on the floor, both ends of the floor. It was a huge lift to have him back.”

Along with a big night from Nnani, Phelp School got 16 points from junior Will Riley, 11 from senior Jacob Hudson and 10 from junior Justin Houser. Riley missed the last five minutes of the third and Phelps let a two-point game slip to double digits in his absence. 

Sunday was the third time the two teams played against each other. Perkiomen won the teams’ first meeting this season, 95-93, on Dec. 13 at Phelps. The Lions returned the favor Jan. 26 at Perk with a 92-78 win.

Perkiomen School senior Alex Zakheim scored 18 points on Sunday. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

The Panthers won the season series of a budding rivalry on a neutral court to take home the title Sunday. While Perk and Phelps will continue their seasons at the National Prep School Championship in Worcester, Mass. on Tuesday, that didn’t take away the sting of the loss that prevented the Lions from their first championship since 2015.

“I thought we did really well defensively against them at times again,” Phelps School coach Trey Morin said. “They’re gonna score. You kind of have to match their effort, especially with how we’re built, which is we’re trying to score every time they get it.”

“We’re excited for that,” Morin added on Phelps’ first National Prep School championship appearance, “but our guys are living in the moment right now for sure. It’s gonna be a challenge for us to regroup, but not something our kids can’t do.”

It will be Perkiomen School’s third straight appearance at the prep school national championship. The Panthers are still trying to play their way out of the first round for the first time, which would be another milestone accomplishment.

Baudinet made sure to note how special Sunday’s win was for his program

“I think this is the one that, at the beginning of the year, that we’re talking about,” Baudinet said.

Emory, Zakheim, Bosch and other seniors like Lucas Orchard, who also won a PIAA title at Devon Prep, and Alfredo Addesa will have to be replaced next season. But Tanner and junior KJ Cochran should be back along with junior Hayden Johns to guide the Panthers as they chase a third straight title. Only Friends’ Central (2009-12) has accomplished that feat. 

If the championship is back at Hagan Arena, don’t bet against Tanner to hoist the PAISAA plaque once again.

“I was talking to Coach after, he said I must really like play here, because I always play good here,” Tanner said. “Back to back years playing good here, it’s given me some ideas, so I can’t say anything, really.”

By Quarter 

Perkiomen  15 | 20 | 23 | 19 || 77

Phelps  13 | 16 | 19 | 19 || 67


Phelps: Onyx Nnani 19, Will Riley 16, Jacob Hudson 11, Justin Houser 10, Jordan Rogers 8, Kodi Johnson 2, Tommy Vaughn Jr. 1.

Perkiomen: Gabe Tanner 19, Alex Zakheim 18, Macon Emory 13, Torin Bosch 10, Hayden Johns 6, KJ Cochran 4, Alfredo Addesa 4, Lucas Orchard 2.

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