This week’s notebook highlights Upper Moreland’s district title run and looks ahead at this weekend’s state playoff games.
By Scott Huff
The PIAA District One basketball championship banner will be proudly hoisted into the rafters at Upper Moreland High School in the near future. The Golden Bears earned the coveted Class AAA title for the first time in school history after the Purple and Gold defeated Pope John Paul II by a 58-47 score last Saturday night on the big stage at Villanova University.
Upper Moreland (414 male students) finds itself in the a scholastic world of its own as the Golden Bears – along with Springfield (250) – compete in a Suburban One League American Conference that showcases six Quad-A basketball programs. Norristown (774 male students), Plymouth Whitemarsh (601), Upper Dublin (584), Cheltenham (562), Wissahickon (558), and Upper Merion (448) have enrollments that qualify them as Quad-A.
“When we set goals at the beginning of the season, we know that winning a district championship is more conceivable that winning a league championship,” said Upper Moreland head coach Brian Corrado. “Playing teams like Norristown, Plymouth Whitemarsh, Cheltenham, and Wissahickon twice a year make it very difficult for the players. But I try to impress on the players that it is going to get us ready for our post season.”
“We know that it is going to be very tough for us to win a league championship,” said Upper Moreland senior captain Matt Kohn. “But like the coach tells us, we are going to be prepared to play against anyone when we get to the playoffs. We knew all season that we could compete for a district championship.”
The numbers support the Golden Bear journey to the district championship,
Upper Moreland (14-11 overall, 7-7 SOL American Conference) was a perfect 6-0 against Class AAA teams, won its only game against AA competition when the Bears beat District AA champion New Hope Solebury, and was a competitive 7-11 against Quad-A teams. Included in the UM resume were Quad-A conference wins over Upper Dublin (twice), Upper Merion (twice), and an enormous win over Cheltenham.
“The Cheltenham game was a game where we gained a tremendous amount of confidence,” said Corrado as the Bears clawed the Panthers 47-39 in the second meeting between the two schools this year. “We knew that we needed a special win – a win that nobody expected us to get. We had been close to beating some excellent teams earlier in the year, but we just came up short. The light bulbs seemed to go on for us after that game.”
That brilliant light helped the Golden Bears shine in their district one title run. Upper Moreland opened the Class AAA playoffs with a 66-46 victory over Pottstown and followed with a 60-55 win over Octorara in the semifinals. The Bears completed the championship trifecta with the 11-point win over Pope John Paul II in the finals.
“I am just so proud of these guys – especially the seniors,” said Corrado as his senior class suffered through a 2-20 season as sophomores. “Matt (Kohn) came though that season and was never discouraged. He looked at the next year and the year after that as a challenge. It was a tremendous example of what can happen when you have dedication and work hard.”
“There was never a doubt that we would be able to compete at a higher level,” said Kohn. “We had a tough sophomore year, but we knew we could accomplish good things that next couple of years. Right now we want to be able to compete for a state championship, and that’s my personal goal.”
Kohn – who played at less than 100 percent with a wrist injury in the second half of the championship game – will take his talents to West Chester University next year.
“I hope to be able to walk on and play basketball next year,” said Kohn who is also an outstanding baseball player. “And of course, I would love to play baseball there. They were Division II national champions last year.
“(High school) baseball starts this week, but I’m glad I won’t be there,” said Kohn as the Golden Bears will open state basketball play this Friday at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School against Susquehanna (22-2). “Coach (Corrado) will get us prepared and if we win we can move on to the next round. And I can miss some more baseball practice. I like baseball, but I love basketball – the more basketball the better for me.”
Upper Moreland showcased the talents of its entire starting lineup to collect the championship trophy.
Junior Kevin McFall (6-5) scored 20 points with six rebounds to fuel the offense, while sophomore James Martin (6-3) scored in twin digits with 12 points. Senior Mark Williams (6-3) scored 10 points with seven boards, and junior Tommy Robinson (6-3) chipped in with eight rebounds and five points. The high scoring Kohn – who scored 22 points against Pottstown and 28 points against Octorara – was held to eight points with his injured wrist.
“I knew that Kevin, James, Mark, and Tommy would be able to pick me up,” said Kohn. “We have played as a team all year – and won as a team.”
And that PIAA District One Class AAA championship banner – along with the gold medals around the Upper Moreland players and coaches’ neck – is proof of that fact.
First Round PIAA State Quad-A Basketball
Abington, Norristown, and Central Bucks South will all open up with first round games this Saturday.
The SOL National Conference champion Ghosts (22-5)will be the #3 seed from District One and will make a short bus ride to William Tennent High School on Saturday afternoon (3 pm) to meet the #3 seed from District 12 – St. Joseph Prep (21-5). Abington earned the #3 seed as the Ghosts earned 53-47 victory over Great Valley.
Abington coach Charles Grasty says: “It was good to see the way we responded to the loss to Chester. We did not play our best game, but we did play hard. We get a team in St. Joe Prep that has two Division One players in (Stephen) Vasturia [Notre Dame] and (Miles) Overton [Wake Forest]. We are going to have throw some stuff at them to slow them down.”
The SOL American Conference champion Eagles (23-4)will be the #9 seed from District One and will make a trek to La Salle College High School (Wyndmoor – 3 pm) to meet District 12 champion Roman Catholic (19-6). Norristown earned the #9 seed as the Eagles soared to a 47-42 victory over Central Bucks South in a playback game.
Norristown head coach Michael Evans says: “The win against Central Bucks South was an ugly one for us, but we’ll take it. It looked to me that both teams knew that they were going to play in states win or lose, and neither team played its best basketball. We have played so many home games lately (seven of the last eight games have been at Norristown) it will be nice to get on a bus and get out of Norristown.”
The SOL Continental Conference runner-up Titans (17-10)will have not only the longest bus ride but drew the toughest opponent in first round action. CB South will travel to Milton Hershey High School (6:30 pm) to meet District 3 champion Harrisburg (24-2). The Titans were the #10 seed after losing to Norristown 47-42 in a playback game.
Central Bucks South head coach Jason Campbell says: “We played much better against Norristown this time than the last time (61-37 loss). We didn’t finish enough offensively, but defensively I think we may have frustrated them and that kept us in the game. Harrisburg, obviously, is a tough draw. They are like the Chester on the other side of the state, and we are going to have to come up with something in order to compete with them.”
Did you know? There are 56 Quad-A schools in District One with 32 teams making the district playoffs (57%) and 10 teams making states. There are 12 Class AAA teams in District One with eight teams making the district playoffs (75%) and two teams making states.