One dream realized, Pope John Paul II edges Spring-Ford for boys basketball title


GRATERFORD – They wear it in script lettering on the back of their warm-up jerseys.


A singular phrase, with multiple implications – one school, one team, one purpose, one dream.

One destination.  

Pope John Paul II reached that lofty destination on the wings of an electrifying 51-45 conquest of Spring-Ford Tuesday night in the Pioneer Athletic Conference boys basketball championship clash before a capacity crowd at Perkiomen Valley High.

And with it two schools – St. Pius X and Kennedy-Kenrick – were fused into one. PJP is No. 1, indeed.

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“From the first practice, when we really didn’t know each other, to this, it’s just awesome,” said PJP point guard Billy Malescio, who filled the stat sheet with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals. “Coming out of Kennedy-Kenrick, I didn’t know what to expect.

“We had a mix of a lot of different personalities, some serious, some not so serious. But it was a mix of competitive guys, and it worked out for the best.”

All that mixing and matching worked out best for the Golden Panthers at crunch time, when they tightened the screws at the defensive end and forged a 9-2 run to put this one in the books.

After Darryl Branch, whose double-double included 18 points and 13 rebounds, cashed an offensive board to give the Rams a 43-42 lead with 3:04 left, PJP rolled up its collective sleeves and went to work.

First, Paul Mills buried a trey from the left wing to get the Panthers back on top, then Jacob Gribb nailed a 14-foot jumper from the left baseline to push the advantage to 47-43 at the 1:45 mark.

“That’s a good shot for him,” said PJP coach Jack Flanagan. “If I was going to make a Jacob Gribb highlight film, there would be a lot of those in there.”

The real highlights, and the net-cutting ceremony, were soon to come. Spring-Ford, playing without Steve Joyce for unspecified reasons, got back to within 2, 47-45, when Branch hit two free throws with 1:24 left. But that would be it for the Liberty Division champions, who misfired on a couple of open looks while PJP was converting 4 of 6 free throws in the closing minute to get the party started.

“We held them to 51 points,” said Spring-Ford coach Mike Young. “Our defense did what it had to do. We had some great shots, a lot of good looks. We just didn’t make enough shots.”

Spring-Ford, which dropped the regular-season meeting 55-46 to PJP eight days ago, shot  37 percent (19-51) from the floor and got almost nothing from the perimeter. Josh Dishman’s trey from just inside the midcourt line at the first-quarter buzzer was the Rams’ only three-pointer in 11 attempts.

“I thought we did a great job on their big guys, too,” said Flanagan. “I thought our defense played very well. We gave them a variety of different looks and we had guys stepping up and making plays.”

There was very little breathing room in this hotly-contested affair between neighborhood rivals. Less than 2 miles separate the schools across the Route 422 corridor, and the numbers were reflective of just how close these programs are.

The contest featured a staggering 13 lead changes, with no advantage bigger than six either way. There were seven ties, all told, including three deadlocks at the end of the first, second and third quarters. How's that for tight?

“This is the ultimate feeling,” said Mills, who finished with 12 points and 7 boards. “It’s like the feeling I had when I used to go to Pius and watch those guys win. I said, ‘I want to do that.’ Now we’ve done it.”

They did it with Dave Cotellese yielding a lethal dagger, contributing 6 assists and 13 points on 3 of 7 shooting from beyond.

“I knew what was going to happen at the first open gym,” said Cotellese. “The guys came in, knowing they'd be playing with new people. We got to know each other right away.

“It’s a bunch of guys that play the same way, and we bonded like we knew we could. We share the basketball, there are no selfish players. It’s team first.”

And now, this team is first in the PAC-10.

“I knew the history of both schools, and it would have been foolish not to acknowledge the tradition at those schools,” said Flanagan. “We wanted to use that and create our own tradition.”

Count that as one mission accomplished.

Pope John Paul II (51) – Gribb 3 0-1 6, Mills 3 5-7 12, Malescio 4 4-6 12, Cotellese 4 2-2 13, Evans 0 1-2 1, Mahoney 0 0-0 0, Taylor 0 0-0 0, Stinson 0 0-0 0, Mansur 2 2-2 7. Totals 16 14-20 51.

Spring-Ford (46) – O’Hara 0 0-0 0, Dishman 1 0-0 3, Keys 2 0-0 4, McDowell 3 3-4 9, Branch 8 2-3 18, Keefe 1 1-2 3, Scanlan 4 0-0 8. Totals 19 6-9 45.

Pope John Paul II   13 11 11 16 – 51

Spring-Ford            13 11 11 10 – 45

3-point goals: Cotellese 3, Mansur, Dishman.