Boys fall in D-11 finals
Whitehall had to play a nearly flawless game to beat Parkland Saturday night when the two rivals met on the hardwood to decide the District 11 4A championship.
They were playing a familiar foe, and in each previous meeting, Parkland dealt the Zephyrs a loss.
That streak stood at three.
Still, the Zephs knew the Trojans weren't invincible, having exposed cracks in their red façade during their bid for an Eastern Pennsylvania Conference title. They were hoping the results this time inside Freedom's Joseph J. McIntrye Gymnasium would finally bring that red menace crumbling down.
But once the championship game got underway, that task was magnified even more when the Trojans sank six of their first seven shots from the field. The Trojans combined that hot shooting in the first half, with some stifling defense in the first 12 minutes to once again claim a district title, winning 46-38.
Head coach Jeff Jones knows it's hard enough to beat a team with as many weapons as the Trojans possess, but when they're nearly perfect from the floor, that challenge becomes much greater.
"They made shots, there's no question about it," said Jones. "And the thing that's so difficult about them is that you think you're up on them [defensively] pretty good, and with their size they're able to shoot over you."
Whitehall also made shots in the first half as well, with Saquon Barkley feeding Chad Rex underneath the basket to give the Zephs a 2-0 lead. Their next bucket came from beyond the arc as Jake Meyers sank a trey to knot the score at 5-5.
They continued to stay within striking distance in the opening quarter, with Nick Hassler sinking a perimeter shot and Brett Radocha scoring on a put back.
However, Meyers' basket would be the last time the Zephs would draw even with the Trojans as Parkland got balanced scoring from their starting roster to capture their third consecutive district crown.
Sam Iorio and Devante Cross were especially lethal, with Iorio sinking mid-range jumpers, while Cross was scoring both inside and out, ending the first half with an MVP move that resulted in acrobatic lay-up for a three-point play. Both players finished the game with 11 points.
The Zephs kept fighting back throughout the game, and when Meyers nailed a three-pointer at the start of the fourth quarter to trim the lead to 31-24, Whitehall immediately went to a press.
But the Trojans broke it when Kevin Dulorie got free for a lay-up. That was followed by a Whitehall turnover that resulted in another PHS basket, extending the lead back to double digits.
"At some point you got to do something that's a little out of your comfort zone," said Jones. "Sometimes when you get down, you have to try something, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."
Point guard Nick Hassler knows the Trojans pretty well, as well as the challenge associated with dethroning the reigning champs.
"Obviously they're a very good team, one of the best teams in the state," said Hassler. "But I don't think it's necessarily true that we didn't have a chance with them. I thought we could compete with these guys. Given another shot, I don't think [another Parkland win] would always be the outcome. I think we can compete with this kind of caliber team."
Hassler said that once they got down heading into intermission, they were determined to get back into the game. The Zephs won both final quarters, but Parkland's torrid shooting in the first half was too much to overcome.
"Making that kind of effort, and with that kind of comeback against a team like this, it isn't always easy," said Hassler. "I'm not disappointed with our effort. I think we gave everything we had out there and I think we played as hard as we possibly could. It just didn't turn out for us."
Hassler orchestrates the offense from the point. He sets the tone, making sure no one gets rattled as he calmly gets them in their sets. Defensively, he's busy trying to defend the perimeter, and that means checking Cross who can square up and shoot from beyond the arc or drive. In fact, all the Trojans can step out and make threes, making them a nightmare to guard.
And when the Trojans shoot 60 percent from the field, it makes it almost doubly difficult.
"The story of tonight is they just made shots," said Hassler.
Even as Parkland marched to the line in the waning minutes, Radocha and Meyers were still breathing life into the Zephyrs offense. They combined for 13 points in that final frame. Radocha led the way with 16 points, while Meyers finished with 10 and Hassler added six.
"I give a lot of credit to our guys for hanging in there," said Jones. "We were down 10 at halftime, and it ended up as an eight-point game.
"I'm not saying it's a victory winning the second half, but it just shows that we kept competing and kept fighting. I'm proud of the kids."
Jones said that his team did a lot of good things, but Parkland proved to be a tough opponent once again.
"As I said to the kids, 'I'm not any prouder of you whether we had won or lost; I couldn't be more proud,'" said Jones. "The nice thing is this isn't the end. We get to go on to a state playoff game next Saturday that we'll look forward to, and see what happens from there."
The Zephs will now face Methacton High School, the No. 7 seed from District I this Saturday.