POTTSTOWN — Joe Ruhl might have been the smallest guy on the court Friday night.
But that didn't stop the Methacton senior guard from turning in perhaps the biggest performance of the Warriors' 58-41 Pioneer Athletic Conference Final Four semifinal victory over Pope John Paul II at Strom Gymnasium.
The 5-foot-8 Ruhl scored 13 points, including four well-timed 3-pointers. But it was his defensive effort on PJP counterpart James Bleming that had Methacton coach Jeff Derstine beaming afterward.
Thanks to Ruhl's relentless hounding, Bleming — the area 3-pointer leader with 61 — could manage just a 1-for-6 night from beyond the arc and finished with five points, well below his 12.7 average.
"Coming into the game we know how much success Bleming's had this year,' Derstine said. "Joe really did a phenomenal job of making him work for everything. He had a tough time getting open looks.'
"Our game plan was to face guard him at all times, so he couldn't get the ball,' said Ruhl. "If he did, we wanted to make sure he had no easy looks.'
Senior forward Zach Jenkins had 11 of his team-high 14 points in the second half and junior forward Justin Ardman had 10 points for Liberty Division runner-up Methacton (14-7), which advanced to the league final for the third straight year. The Warriors, who pulled away from a 22-21 halftime lead, will face Liberty champ Spring-Ford (20-2) for the title Tuesday at Strom Gymnasium at 7 p.m.
"I thought in the second half we did a better job of containing their penetration,' Derstine said. "We gave up too many open looks on 3s in the first half.'
The Frontier Division champ Golden Panthers (13-9) took a 14-11 lead after a quarter and took their largest lead at 17-11 when Ro Peloro opened the second quarter by banging home a line-drive 3-pointer.
But Methacton gradually got into its flow, and took the one-point lead to intermission when Ardman was fouled on a 3-point attempt at the buzzer and canned all three free throws.
Ruhl, who hit a 3 in all four quarters, opened the second half with one to ignite an 11-2 run that extended the Warriors lead to 10.
"He hit them at big moments,' Derstine said.
PJP, which got a team-high 15 points from Tim Tadros, got as close as four points — the second time on a 3-pointer by Nick Giampetro with 4:04 left.
Ruhl, though, answered with his final 3 as Methacton closed it out with a 15-2 tear.
"I try to provide a spark on defense as well as run the offense as well as I can,' said Ruhl, whose effort was two points shy of his season high. "And when I have the open shot and my teammates find me, I try to knock it down.'
PJP, meanwhile, shot just 8-for-27 (29.6 percent) in the second half after going 62 percent from the floor over the first two quarters.
"In the second half, it came down to a play here and a play there, but they just did a great job on the defensive end,' Golden Panthers coach Jack Flanagan said. "We tried to pick up the pace and get the tempo going a little, but we just couldn't get over the hump.'
"We struggled a little with Tadros (inside), but we did a much better job on their perimeter players in the second half,' Derstine said. "We started making a couple shots, and you could see the guys' confidence starting to build. And then we got a couple of stops and it all sort of came together towards the end of the game. I was really pleased with our effort for four quarters and our execution, particularly at the defensive end in the second half.'
Dillon Alderfer and Sean Mann scored eight points each for Methacton, which won for the ninth time in its past 11 games.
"It was a great team win,' Ruhl said. "Our defense led to our offense, and we had patient offensive possessions and got easy baskets.'
Not to mention a clutch performance from their little big man.
Alderfer and Jenkins had nine rebounds each as Methacton enjoyed a 30-25 advantage on the glass. ... Methacton hit its first 16 foul shots on the way to a 17-for-20 effort from the line. ... Tadros and Matt Mesaros had five boards each for PJP.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.