Behind spark plug and dynamic scorer Tyler Norwood, Penncrest advanced to Tuesday night's Central League boys' basketball final.
But the Lions' quest for their first league crown since 2010 fell short when Lower Merion's Steve Payne sank a right-side runner high off the glass with 2.6 seconds remaining, giving the Aces a thrilling 48-46 triumph at Harriton and their second straight title.
"Getting here for the first time in my high school career was great but not winning it really hurts," Norwood said. "It stings, no doubt."
An excellent penetrator with a solid pull-up jump shot, Norwood finished with a game-high 19 points, four rebounds, two assists, and a steal. He accounted for seven of his squad's nine fourth-quarter points.
Lower Merion used a box-and-one on Norwood most of the way, with 5-foot-11 guard Darryl Taylor shadowing the 5-9, 165-pound senior.
"They did the same thing they did the first time we played them," Norwood said of the Aces' 67-59 home win on Jan. 12. "We prepare for that and me being double- and triple-teamed in practice all the time."
Afterward, a tearful Norwood and Payne, a junior guard who posted 18 points and seven boards, embraced in the hallway outside the locker rooms.
Norwood, a third-year starter, is averaging 21.7 points, 6.7 assists, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.1 steals. He has buried 51 three-pointers.
"He can put the ball in the basket. He's an elite shooter, and his average number of assists is up by almost four from last year," Penncrest coach Mike Doyle said. "Nobody works harder. Nobody is in the gym longer."
Norwood became Penncrest's all-time leading scorer in Sunday's 52-39 semifinal win over Upper Darby. Netting 22 points and upping his career point total to 1,559, he eclipsed the old mark of 1,551 set by Corey Johnson in 1995.
Norwood is supported by 6-3 senior wing Chris Mills, 6-3 junior forwards Malcolm Williams (four offensive rebounds vs. Lower Merion) and Matt Arbogast, and senior guard Justin Heidig. Junior guard Isaiah Rice is the sixth man.
Mills chipped in five points, five caroms, and two steals against the Aces. "He's as tough as they come," Doyle said matter-of-factly.
Last season, Norwood averaged 22.7 points and hit 85 treys while leading the Lions to a 20-8 record, the PIAA District 1 Class 5A championship, and a berth in the state tournament.
The 17-year-old has not drawn any serious Division I interest. His only scholarship offer is from Division II Chestnut Hill. East Stroudsburg, Millersville Notre Dame (Ohio), Ohio Dominican, and Wilmington (Del.) are also in the mix.
"College coaches too often get caught up in a player's height," Doyle said. "If Tyler is a few inches taller, it's a different story. It's a shame, really."