Pottstown shows off new ride, edges Pope John Paul II to qualify for PAC-10 Final Four

By DAVE KURTZ

Pac-10sports.com

UPPER PROVIDENCE – The Pottstown High boys basketball team was running like an old Yugo several weeks back, burning oil and backfiring at an alarming rate during a 3-game tailspin.

No simple tuneup was going to fix this problem - the Trojans needed to drop the transmission, replace the engine and start from scratch.

Fast forward to Friday night, when Pottstown unveiled its new ride - a sleek, turbo-charged machine with plenty of handle and get-up-and-go. Looking more like a Ferrari, the Trojans dodged their way in and out of traffic and posted a 65-63 victory over Pope John Paul II in a critical PAC-10 Frontier Division showdown.

Photo by Stephanie Oltman

“We told the kids, ‘this vehicle is not going to work unless you do your part,’” said Pottstown coach Jai-T Randall after the Trojans clinched a Final Four berth with their fourth straight victory. “This vehicle is running right now.”

Clicking on all cylinders, the Trojans rode to victory with Elijah Jackson and Dawon Matthews firmly entrenched in the cockpit. Matthews contributed a double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds while Jackson was in fifth gear all night, especially in the fourth quarter when he hit for 9 of his game-high 23 points.

“It was our defensive intensity,” said Matthews, who added 5 assists to his big numbers. “That was all we ever really needed – to step up on defense. Elijah came back (after sitting out one game) and the 6-6 sophomore (Antonio Moore) has stepped up big time, too. Now we’re running smooth.”

Pottstown (8-4 Frontier. 13-8)  wasted little time getting to the freeway. The Trojans, who have just struggling Upper Perkiomen left on their league slate, ran out to a 31-25 halftime lead, creating an up-tempo pace with a tenacious defense that forced eight PJP turnovers in the opening 16 minutes.

But the Golden Panthers – still in the driver’s seat for a Final Four berth at 7-3 - refused to go away, locking things up at 43 on the strength of an 8-3 run at the end of the third quarter.

The fourth period began on the seesaw with the lead changing hands three times before the Trojans took charge with a 10-2 surge to move in front, 58-51, with 1:39 left. Pottstown looked to be in shutdown mode when Matthews scored in transition for a 64-56 lead with 42 seconds remaining, but PJP had other ideas.

Consecutive turnovers by the Trojans elevated the Panthers’ dim pulse, and when Dave Cotellese (12 points, 4 trifectas) nailed a long trey from the top of the key with 15.8 ticks left, PJP had the deficit down to 64-63.

On the ensuing possession, Pope John Paul II mainstays Paul Mills (17 points) and Jeff Evans collided in midair while fouling Pottstown’s Brendan King. The Golden Panthers' comeback hopes would soon suffer a similar fate as their dynamic duo. 

“When you see both of your guys go down on the same play, it’s scary,” said PJP coach Jack Flanagan, stricken himself with a broken ankle sustained several weeks back. “They’re lying there on the floor, telling me they're OK. One of them said, 'we’ve got to get the rebound.'”

The Panthers never got that crucial defensive board. King hit the first free throw for a 65-63 advantage, but when his second foul shot clanged off the rim, Matthews was there for the rebound. PJP would get the ball back with 3.3 seconds left after Matthews missed two from the charity stripe, but the Panthers turned it over on an errant length-of-the-court pass.

“We didn’t do what we do well – and that’s taking care of the basketball and defending,” said Flanagan, whose club can clinch a Final Four berth with a victory at home over Pottsgrove tonight. “We didn’t do what we needed to do for the entire 32 minutes.”

Pottstown, meanwhile, was proudly showing off its new wheels - anxious to see where this revamped machine could get them.

“We have the will to win,” said Randall. “That started to grow when we started winning again. Now, we know that if we stay true and keep certain principles defensively, we have a good chance. We have the attitude that we should win.”

FREE THROWS: Mills (head injury) and Evans (leg injury) both returned to the game after the collision, but their status for tonight’s clash with Pottsgrove is unknown. Mills was walking around with his shoulder and neck encased in a bag of ice after the loss, not looking too chipper.

Pottstown (65) – Matthews 7 4-8 18, Endy 2 0-0 5, Cottman 1 0-0 3, King 2 1-2 6, Frederick 0 0-0 0, Elliott 1 0-0 2, Jackson 7 7-9 23, Moore 3 2-4 8. Totals 23 14-23 65.

Pope John Paul II (63) – Cotellese 4 0-0 12, Evans 3 0-0 7, Mahoney 0 0-0 0, Gribb 3 2-2 8, Mills 6 5-10 17, Malescio 3 2-2 9, Taylor 0 0-0 0, Stinson 1 0-0 2, Mansur 2 3-3 8. Totals 22 12-17 63.

Pottstown             11 20 12 22 – 65

Pope John Paul II    9 16 18 20 – 63

3-point goals: Cotellese 4, Jackson 2, Endy, Cottman, King, Evans, Malescio, Mansur.