Freeze frame: Pope John Paul II and Spring-Ford provide viewing pleasure in boys championship clash


GRATERFORD – Fans were pressing against the glass at the south end of the gymnasium, looking like window shoppers long on wishes and short on cash.

The gates had closed moments earlier, when the seating capacity at Perkiomen Valley High had been reached. Standing in the cold, five-deep, for an occasional, obstructed view was the only alternative for those who failed to gain admission.

They stayed there, too, for the duration, mesmerized by the riveting Pioneer Athletic Conference boys basketball championship struggle that was taking place inside the shuttered doors.

Outside it was chilling, but inside it was thrilling.

The emotions on both sides of the building were heating up. Pope John Paul II and Spring-Ford had the temperature rising, looking for some degree of separation beyond the two-mile stretch across Route 422 that divides the neighboring rivals.

After 13 lead changes, 7 ties – including an amazing three at the end of each quarter – the Golden Panthers finally prevailed, 51-45. The merger of Kennedy-Kenrick and St. Pius X had produced a championship banner for PJP in its first year of existence.

It was quite a celebration.

The net-cutting ceremony extended well into the evening, and each player and coach took their turn climbing up a ladder with a pair of scissors in hand amid a large cluster of ecstatic students, parents and fans.

 PJP coach and athletic director Jack Flanagan took his time, soaking it all in.

“This feels so good, knowing how hard these guys have worked,” said Flanagan. “Coming into a new school, there were questions about how this would all work. But I think we’ve answered the questions in the classroom, and tonight, we answered the questions on the court.”

The defining effort was answered by players who had been strangers to each other only months before. It was obvious – there was a special chemistry, a unique bond that had been forged.

“I trust these guys,” said PJP senior guard Jeff Evans, who came in averaging 11 ppg but was held to just one free throw. “I tried not to force anything. (Andrew) Keys did a good job defending me. But I was confident the other guys would step up.”

Billy Malescio (Kennedy-Kenrick) and Evans’ longtime running mate at Pius, Paul Mills, certainly stepped up, combining for 24 points and 15 rebounds. Dave Cotellese (Pius) did his part, too, dropping 13 points on a trio of treys, dishing 6 assists and nailing a pair of free throws to give PJP a 49-45 lead with 37.2 seconds remaining. PJP’s other starter, Jacob Gribb, cashed 6 points, including a clutch jumper from the left baseline that hit nothing but net for a four-point lead late in the fourth quarter.    

The Golden Panthers’ short rotation of nine players that included Brent Mahoney, Leland Taylor, Jamel Stinson and most significantly, Mike Mansur (7 points, block), also kept the starters fresh for a gritty defensive effort that resulted in 37 percent shooting by the Rams.

“Good defense generates good offense,” said Mills, a senior. “All our focus was on getting a stop and a score, a stop and a score. It’s all about confidence, and we have that.

“This night, this win, should bring everyone together from the two schools.”

Malescio was searching for the right words and his comments, like so many of his precise passes this season, were right on target.

“We don’t have any gunners on this team,” the crafty senior guard said. “Everyone is out for the best of the team. We have a lot of different guys that can hurt you. You can’t just shut one guy down and be successful.

“We played a helluva game. To do what we did, in our first year, is awesome.”