They were called Pennsylvania state champions back in November, before a ball was even rolled out for practice. They were labeled state champions, and December wasn’t even finished. After a few knocks, and some rocky terrain, now Penn Wood can call itself PIAA Class AAAA state champions.
It just took five months to get there.
But the wait and journey were well worth it. The Patriots won the first state basketball title in school history, beating York William Penn, 72-53, on March 21 at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday night. The Pats (28-4) did it emphatically, did it with patience, and did it convincingly.
All season long, Pats coach Clyde Jones wanted to pull out the best from his team. Each game, a little piece of that puzzle emerged, but never the completed product. Until now.
“There were times we struggled, and times I thought I had to tinker with some things, but it all worked out,” said Jones, whose history-making season including winning the powerhouse Del Val League for the first time in school history (sharing it with Chester).
What Penn Wood did was no easy task. The Del Val League, and District 1, has been ruled the last 15 years by the ironfist of state power Chester, the defending state champions. Speaking of District 1, four of the last five state champions (Chester 2005, Lower Merion 2006, Chester 2008) have now emerged from what it is the most competitive area for basketball in Pennsylvania.
That includes two of this year’s four state semifinalists, Plymouth Whitemarsh and Penn Wood.
As for the Del Val League, it can now boast that it has back-to-back state champions (Chester and Penn Wood).
“It was a long climb, but I don’t think we had any doubts we could really do this,” Penn Wood senior captain Duane Johnson said. “I know there were some people who doubted us, but I think the main thing is that we never doubted ourselves and what we could do.”
Penn Wood never trailed against Penn, opening a 19-4 lead. The Bearcats closed to within four a few times, only to have the Pats stave off the advances and win going away.
“It was just a matter of patience and time when this would all come together,” Jones said. “I believed it would, because I believed in these kids and the character they have as a team. Sure, they tried my patience, but again, what coach doesn’t go through a season without their patience being pushed a few times? It just came down to believing, and I always believed they could it.”
Feisty 5-10 junior point guard Tyree Johnson played an integral role in the win. Where Johnson went, Penn Wood went. The rare times his play was down, the Pats’ play as a team suffered. The many, many times he was exceptional, Penn Wood was exceptional.
That manifested itself Saturday night, and Tyree Johnson controlled the pattern of the game with his defense and steady floor leadership.
“For me, this was very big for the seniors, Duane and Thomas (White), and everyone,” Tyree Johnson said. “We always thought we were good enough to be state champions, and I really had no problem saying that, even though we hadn’t won anything yet. But no one can say we haven’t won anything now.”
Now Penn Wood can hang a state championship banner as proof.
Joseph Santoliquito covers high school sports for the Philadelphia Daily News and is a frequent contributor to MaxPreps.com.