Final Four boys hoops semifinal: Pope John Paul II gangs up on Methacton

By DAVE KURTZ

Pac-10sports.com

GRATERFORD – If Jack Flanagan was looking for a glimpse into the future, he found it during the second game of Pope John Paul II’s first season.

David Cotellese, of St. Pius X origin, had just absorbed a hard foul from a Monsignor Bonner player when Golden Panthers teammate Billy Malescio, of Kennedy-Kenrick stock, stepped in and issued a stern warning that such actions would not be tolerated. There would be consequences to pay.

“Here were two kids who barely knew each other, from different schools, and one has the other’s back,” said Flanagan, remembering that early December day. “When that happened, I turned to my coaches and said, ‘this could be a very good season.’”

For more Janet Jones photos on this game, visit our photo gallery.

That very good season continued to ascend toward greatness Friday night when the Golden Panthers hung a 56-41 shellacking on Methacton in the nightcap of a PAC-10 Final Four semifinal doubleheader at Perkiomen Valley. PJP, which won the regular season title in the Frontier Division, advances to Tuesday night’s championship game opposite Spring-Ford.

“The more we play together, the better we are,” said senior guard Jeff Evans, who struggled through a rough shooting night (2-12, 1-10 from beyond) but still managed to contribute with 5 assists. “We’re looking to make a run deep into the playoffs.”

The run that mattered most was the one the Panthers unleashed in the second half. Tightening the screws at the defensive end and thoroughly whipping the Warriors at their own game – transition basketball - PJP put the pedal to the metal to go up 35-25 by the end of the third quarter.

With the game still in doubt, Pope strung together a 7-0 run, shredding the Methacton fullcourt press for two easy layups to lead by 18, 49-31, with 2:47 remaining.

“We didn’t have any flow to our offense,” said Methacton coach Jeff Derstine. “They were mixing up their defenses, and we had trouble with their zones, especially the 1-2-2.

“We’ve been an up-tempo team all season. But they have four or five guys who can handle the ball. We tried to trap them, but for the most part, they took care of the ball, and got some easy shots. Things went downhill quickly.”

The Warriors’ descent was rapid, fueled by poor shooting. Methacton misfired at a 33 percent clip (18-54) from the floor, and despite 14 offensive rebounds, the conversions were few and far between, especially after the break.

“It was a score and a stop, a score and a stop,” Flanagan said of the second-half surge. “They have a knack for getting turnovers and easy baskets, but we didn’t allow them to do that.”

Paul Mills collected a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds to lead PJP, which shot an efficient 50 percent (21-42) from the field. Long-range bomber Cotellese threaded 13 points, including a pair of treys.

The bounces were also going the Golden Panthers’ way. Mike Mansur, who produced 9 points in 17 high-energy minutes off the bench, converted an offensive rebound early in the fourth quarter when his flush attempt bounced high off the rim and fell, as if from heaven, through the net.

It was that kind of night for PJP.

“A lot of people talk about our 3-point shooting, but we only shot 4-for-15 (from beyond),” said Flanagan. “We did it tonight with our defense and our defensive rebounding. We focus on guarding the ball, guarding the lane and stopping penetration.”

It was a total team effort from a group that has come together at the right time. Out of thin air, the Golden Panthers are showing an esprit de corps that has quickly developed in a short time.

Flanagan said it best, “You don’t have to turn your back on the past to embrace the future.”

Right now, the future is full of promise for PJP.

Methacton (41) – Dinan 4 1-2 9, Handley 4 0-2 8, Galloway 3 2-4 8, Markle 2 0-0 4, Casper 2 0-0 4, Ahlberg 0 2-3 2, Hart 0 0-0 0, Herber 1 0-0 2, McKee 2 0-0 4. Totals 18 5-11 41.

Pope John Paul II (56) – Gribb 1 2-2 4, Mills 5 0-0 10, Malescio 4 0-2 8, Cotellese 4 3-5 13, Evans 2 3-4 8, Mahoney 1 0-0 2, Stinson 1 0-0 2, Mansur 3 2-2 9. Totals 21 10-15 56.

Methacton               10 9   6 16 – 41

Pope John Paul II      9 14 12 21 – 56

3-point goals: Cotellese 2, Evans, Mansur.