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*Check back for a feature about Dalton Pepper’s historic milestone later this weekend.
FAIRLESS HILLS – Tom Marcinkowski, clutching a piece of twine from the net he and his teammates had just cut down, had a hard time finding the words to describe what had been a very special night.
“I’m speechless,” the Pennsbury senior said. “I had goose bumps coming out here tonight.”
So did a lot of other people who packed the stands in Pennsbury’s sold-out gymnasium for Friday night’s SOL finale against neighboring Neshaminy.
Not only were the Falcons celebrating Senior Night as they played for an unprecedented 58th straight league win, there was the not so little matter of Dalton Pepper surpassing a milestone reserved for a select few. The Falcons’ star needed just four points to reach the 2,000-point plateau.
“Right from the beginning, we wanted to get him the ball,” Marcinkowski said. “It’s a great achievement, and it made the night all the more exciting.”
Not that the fans needed any more excitement. This night was filled with excitement.
It began with Neshaminy’s jayvee pulling out an overtime win that had the full house rocking and culminated with the Falcons cutting down the net to strains of Queen’s “We are the Champions” as they celebrated their team’s fourth consecutive undefeated league championship.
In between, the Falcons rolled to a 67-45 win over their archrivals, and Pepper reached the historic milestone at the six-minute mark of the first quarter when he raised up and hit nothing but net on a trey from the top of the circle.
The game was halted as streamers poured onto the court and coach Frank Sciolla presented the game ball to his senior star, who is only the 13th player in District One history to reach that milestone.
“It was just a great night,” Pepper said. “It was one of the best nights of my life.
“Where else would you want to be but in this gym on Senior Night, scoring your 2,000th point and beating a team by 22.”
Pepper went on to score 28 points in yet another brilliant performance. Teammate Eddie DiRugeris added 12, and he acknowledged that playing in front of the home crowd is always special.
“These fans are the best high school fans I have ever seen,” DiRugeris said. “It’s just such an advantage to have them behind us.
“The other teams get so hyped to play here because they’re not used to this environment. We’re used to it, and that plays to our advantage.”
The Falcons’ senior guard admitted that the night was emotional for everyone.
“The first thing that came to my mind was that the time went so fast – all the time spent in the gym and weight room,” DiRugeris said. “I remember running the two-mile around the track for tryouts, and now the playoffs are almost here. It went quick.”
Speaking of quick – the Falcons took care of business rather quickly this time around. In the initial meeting between the two squads - a 50-40 Falcon win, the Redskins kept it close until the fourth quarter. They weren’t as fortunate this time around as the Falcons – behind 17 points from Pepper – opened up a 31-20 halftime lead and never looked back.
“Honestly, I thought we practiced well,” Redskin coach Jerry Devine said. “I thought we were prepared. I was excited.
“I thought it was going to be a good experience for the kids. We played here before in this same type of situation with the big crowd, a league title and that kind of stuff.”
On this night, there was no denying this Falcon squad its spot in history, although the Redskins kept it close for awhile. They took their only lead (3-2) when Justin Deeter buried a three-pointer. That lead disappeared in a hurry when Dalton answered with his historic trey.
A one-handed jam by Pepper after coming up with a steal on the defensive end ignited the crowd and put the Falcons on top 14-7, but Ryan Arcidiacono, who led the Redskins with 13 points, found Paul Carrezola (11 points) for an easy bucket.
A trey by Tristan Emig made it a 14-12 game, but Marcus Healey scored a layup at the other end. Another Arcidiacono bucket made it a 16-14 game at the end of one quarter.
A four-point Pepper run made put the Falcons on top 20-15, and a Marcinkowski bucket upped the lead to seven. DiRugeris turned a steal into a layup, and the Falcons’ pressure defense was taking its toll.
“They get out and defend,” Devine said. “At the same time, they present an aura – it’s Pennsbury. If they saw that same type of pressure against Bensalem, it wouldn’t affect them as much, but they are really are good. “
Deeter turned a steal into a layup to make it a 25-18 game, and it was still a seven-point game (27-20) after Arcidiacono sank a pair from the foul line after a technical on Sciolla.
But Dante Devine (nine points) turned a steal into a layup, and yet another Neshaminy turnover resulted in DiRugeris finding Marcinkowski for a layup with a behind-the-back pass that sent the Falcons into halftime with a 31-20 lead.
The Redskins had 13 first-half turnovers, thanks in no small part to Pennsbury’s pressure defense.
“We just play together,” Marcinkowski said. “If one person gets beat, we step in and help each other out.
“We play team defense, and we can’t really win without everyone playing together.”
If there was any doubt about the outcome, those doubts were put to rest in a hurry in the second half. After Emig found Carrezola (11 points) for a bucket inside, the Falcons went to work. DiRugeris scored on a drive and then came up with a steal that resulted in a Devine bucket.
“We know their guards are pretty young, and we knew in order for us to win the game, we had to force turnovers up top with our pressure,” DiRugeris said. “Once we did that – at the start of the second half, we got some easy layups, and I think that stretched the game open.”
A Neshaminy miss set the stage for a trey by Jesse Krasna, and just like that, the Falcons led 38-22. When DiRugeris hit nothing but net on a trey in the closing seconds of the third quarter, the Falcons led 53-30, and a win and another perfect league season was in the books.
Winning, according to Sciolla, never gets old.
“Dave Moyer – our (WBCB) radio guy – played for me, and he said to me, ‘It’s not going to get old because it’s not easy. If it was easy, it would have been done more often,’” the Falcons’ coach said. “We don’t take any of them for granted.”
For the seniors, the win – the Falcons’ 38th straight at home and 14th consecutive for the season - was number 99 of their four-year careers. The Falcons have lost just 16 games in that span.
The night’s most delightful moment came with 2:34 remaining in the contest when senior Sean Simons – with the home crowd roaring its approval - entered the game for Pepper. It was the first time Simons, the Falcons’ manager for the past four years, was ever in uniform.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It really was amazing.”
With the student section chanting, ‘Let’s go Simons. Let’s go Simons,” the senior guard remained on the court until the final horn. He touched the ball just once and the crowd erupted.
“It’s such an honor to be part of this team, but I never expected this,” Simons said. “It was a surprise right up until game time. We were in the locker room, and coach said to the little boy (who was the honorary coach), ‘How would you one day like to suit up in the orange and black? Our manager’s going to get that shot right now.’ That was the first I knew.
“It was three minutes prior to the game. I undressed so fast to get into my uniform. I was done in like 30 seconds. It was really a lot of fun.”
It was, according to Simons, an honor and a privilege to wear a Falcon uniform.
“It’s great to be part of this team,” he said. “The success these guys have had is all because of their work ethic, and it starts with the coaching staff.
“I’m so lucky to be a part of it.”
Sciolla recalled that Simons was persistent in pursuit of a spot as manager.
“Sean stalked me to be a manager four years ago,” the Falcons’ coach said with a smile. “He wrote me letters, he would show up in my classroom – I didn’t know who he was, and he would stuff things in my mail box.
“To have a kid for four years who came to every practice, to be able to go to games and to get him in the game – we were happy to be able to reward him with that. That really is high school basketball, high school sports.”
That really is high school sports at its very best.
PENNSBURY 67, NESHAMINY 45
Neshaminy (45) – Paul Carrezola 5 1-2 11, Justin Deeter 3 2-2 9, Steve Warhola 1 1-2 3, Tristan Emig 1 0-0 3, Ryan Arcidiacono 5 2-2 13, Dwight Williams 2 0-0 4, Tyler Katz 0 0-0 0, Steve Mendola 1 0-0 2, Keelan Adams 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 6-8 45.
Pennsbury (67) – Jesse Krasna 3 0-0 7, Eddie DiRugeris 5 1-1 12, Dalton Pepper 12 2-7 28, Marcus Healey 1 1-2 3, Tom Marcinkowski 3 0-0 6, Jon Ryan Wolff 1 0-0 2, Dante Devine 4 1-2 9, Zachary Kumor 0 0-0 0, Mike Ciotti 0 0-0 0, Sean Simons 0 0-0 0. Totals 29 5-12 67
Neshaminy 14 6 10 15-45
Pennsbury 16 15 22 14-67
Three-point goals: Neshaminy – Justin Deeter, Tristan Emig, Ryan Arcidiacono. Pennsbury – Dalton Pepper 2, Eddie DiRugeris, Jesse Krasna.