This season is supposed to be special for the Penn Wood basketball team. The Patriots know it. Their fans know it. But there was no anxiety prior to their season opener last night against Holy Ghost Prep.
Patriots point guard Tyree Johnson was serenading his teammates before the game in a very relaxed, giddy locker room.
Penn Wood then went out and did what it was supposed to do, what talented teams do, in beating back pesky Holy Ghost, 63-50, at the packed Penn Wood gym.
Penn Wood's Duane Johnson led all scorers with 15 points, with 12 points coming from Chris White and 11 from Johnson. It was the first loss of the year for Holy Ghost, which dropped to 2-1.
For Penn Wood, the victory was a sampling of just how good this team could be. The Pats led by as much as 55-36 early in the fourth quarter, but also trailed for a good portion of the second quarter, down by as much as 24-19.
It's only early December, but the Pats came away with a valuable lesson, a mistake they vowed won't happen again - especially if they're facing defending state champion Chester.
Penn Wood's lone error was letting up after charging out to an 11-1 lead.
"We were so amped, we wanted to play so bad, we couldn't wait until tonight," Johnson said. "We had to take all that energy out on the court. We hear the expectations, and I'm OK with them. Myself, I'm not really worried about the hype that much.
"I'm satisfied with the win, but not too satisfied with how we played. We saw that [11-1] lead and we lost some focus. I think it was more of us thinking we had the game won already, and the game was nowhere near over. I think we learned we could play harder than we did. We did let up sometimes tonight. We're a team that could go all the way. We just need to stay more focused and learn from our mistakes."
Aaron Brown, the transfer from Roman Catholic, came to the rescue in the second quarter, scoring six points and finishing with eight. But when the Pats were struggling, shooting only 6 of 20 from the floor, the 6-4 sophomore stepped up.
"I felt giving that lead up, that was a challenge," Brown said. "I felt I had to get everyone back on track, because we just fell off after that good start. I know we won't give up on each other. We had them, and we had the knockout blow, we just started to get comfortable and relaxed. Once we got back into the game, we were OK."
Penn Wood finished the second quarter on a 9-0 tear to take control of the game. Until then, it was a slugfest. The Patriots took a nice lead, only to have Holy Ghost bounce back and make it a game, as John Glenn and Duffy Barrett heated up.
"I'm happy with the win, but after we did get off to that good start, we did relax," Pats coach Clyde Jones said. "We knew they were a mentally tough team and [Holy Ghost Prep coach] Tony Chapman does a great job. In close games, you get tight and play tight. This game got close and we got careless. But we never played tight at all."
Chapman and HGP certainly don't avoid anyone. Their challenging schedule also includes Conestoga, Glen Mills and Plymouth-Whitemarsh.
"I'm proud of the way my kids played," Chapman said. "Penn Wood is really good. They have everything. Size. A terrific point guard. Penn Wood has depth. They can go nine or 10 deep. Their defense comes at you in waves, and their pressure can be stifling."
And they can sing. *