Roman Catholic was coming off a loss to Lincoln in the PIAA District 12 final. Also in the back of the minds of coaches and players was last year’s upset loss to Perkiomen Valley in the first round of the state playoffs.
It was far from a crisp or impressive showing, but junior swingman Hakim Hart and the Cahillites stayed alive with a 58-56 victory over Pennridge in Saturday afternoon’s Class 6A state opener at Cardinal O’Hara.
“This type of game is dangerous because you don’t know a whole lot about your opponent,” Hart said. “We did know that they could shoot and rebound pretty well.”
Roman nearly let the 10-point advantage it held with three minutes remaining in the game slip away. The scrappy Rams made things interesting with an 8-0 run that cut the gap to 56-54 with 19 seconds to play.
Roman survived on the two free throws point guard Lynn Greer made before Pennridge forward Jonathan Post’s putback with eight-tenths of a seconds to go.
“I think we got stagnant on offense,” Cahillites coach Matt Griffin said of the Rams’ late rally. “I think that’s my fault. But they made some clutch shots down the stretch.”
Next for 20-6 Roman, which is ranked No. 5 in Southeastern Pennsylvania by the Inquirer, is a second-round matchup against No. 3 Plymouth Whitemarsh (28-1) on Wednesday at a neutral site and time to be determined.
Hart sparked the too-close-for-comfort triumph with 22 points, four rebounds, four steals, and three assists. He shot 7 for 11 from the field, including 4 for 7 from three-point land, and 4 for 4 from the line. His 17 markers, with three treys, paved the way for the Cahillites’ 30-24 halftime advantage.
“He’s been doing it all year for us,” Griffin said of the 6-foot-5, 170-pound junior and Division I recruit. “He’s our most efficient shooter. When he gets good looks, he knocks them down.”
Hart transferred to Roman before this school year after drawing raves in two seasons at South Jersey’s Kingsway High.
“I was looking to improve my overall game,” the 16-year-old said of the switch. “I knew that could happen with the type of schedule Roman plays and by competing against the top guys in the Catholic League.”
With the Cahillites ahead of Pennridge, 49-46, they managed a 7-0 spurt that was made up of John Kelly’s layup, Hart’s open-court theft and breakaway dunk, and Hart’s trey from up top.
Hart was supported by Greer (16 points, four boards, four assists) and 6-6 wing Seth Lundy (15 points, eight boards, four assists). Lundy’s 13 third-quarter points included three treys.
The Rams (19-9) were spurred by Post’s 19 points and up-and-coming junior guard Sean Yoder’s 10 points, seven assists, five boards, and two steals.
Pennridge 16 8 14 18 – 56
Roman Catholic 16 14 19 9 – 58
P: Sean Yoder 10, Tyrese Lewis 8, Michael Molettiere 8, Jonathan Post 19, Ryan Warner 5, Jake Pestrak 6.
R: Lynn Greer 16, John Kelly 2, Seth Lundy 15, Hakim Hart 22, Nasir Lett 3.