Last season, Pennridge’s boys basketball team had a memorable and magical ride all the way to the state Class 6A final.
However, one piece was missing – a Suburban One League (SOL) tournament championship.
In a year in which many expected Pennridge to be in a transition year, losing its all-time leading scorer Sean Yoder and some of the supporting cast, the Rams (18-6) are back in the hunt for another postseason run as they brought home their first SOL title with a 52-50 victory over Cheltenham at Council Rock South High School.
Pennridge had failed to capture any of the other five previous appearances in the championship game.
“Last year, we got on a roll and went to the state championship game,” said Pennridge head coach Dean Behrens. “This is really neat. Sean (Yoder) and Jon (Post) led us last year and they both texted about the win. A lot of alumni reached out about it.
“We played really good basketball, and we were outstanding in the second half. This was an opportunity for this group to put their mark on the program. There were a lot of people who thought we would be down this year.
“But these guys really came together during the summer and fall.”
Pennridge senior guard Christian Guldin scored all 10 of his team’s points in the final quarter to cap a game-high 22-point effort. Guldin gave the Rams a 48-45 lead down the stretch with a pair of jumpers and he also was flawless from the foul line, sinking all four free throws. Trent Fisher and Luke Yoder each chipped in with nine points.
“I knew I had to be aggressive,” Guldin said. “I took advantage of what I saw out there. It really has been a matter of all us playing together this season.”
“Guldin and Fisher are both having pretty darn good years,” said Behrens. “They both have been under the radar most of the year. The other coaches recognized how good they are.”
Yet, the Rams helped seal their victory with a tenacious second-half defensive effort. They trailed by eight at halftime and as many as a dozen in the third quarter before they clamped down on Cheltenham’s offense.
In the end, Pennridge limited Cheltenham to 17 second-half points and forced 11 turnovers. It was a matter of slowing down the Panthers’ fleetness.
“We were giving up too many points in transition,” added Behrens. “We needed to get back quicker on defense. That was the main adjustment that we had made.”
In the opening half, Pennridge had trouble keeping pace with Cheltenham. The Rams trailed 14-12 after one quarter and were down 33-25 at halftime.
After halftime, the Rams showed the same kind of grit and determination that landed them in the championship final last season and also has carried them through this season.
Pennridge will have a first-round bye in the District One Class 6A playoffs, and as the eighth seed the Rams will face the winner of the Central Bucks West-North Penn winner on their home floor Tuesday, Feb. 18. Behrens is optimistic the championship can be a kick-start for the second season ahead. Behrens noted that senior Paul Croyle can use the time after recently returning from a broken foot.
“We lost three of our last four league games,” said Behrens. “This can be some motivation for us for the next level. We worked to get the home (game) and the bye will help us to get some rest and healthy.
“They have shown a lot of character, and they have handled things extremely well this season.”