It was the first question first-year Spring-Ford boys basketball coach Chris Talley asked his squad after the Rams defeated Pottsgrove 62-48 in Friday's Pioneer Athletic Conference Final Four semifinal:What's the hardest thing to do in sports?The answer, as the saying goes, is beat a team three times in one season.
In order for the Rams (20-2) to bring home their first league championship in a decade, they'll have to do just that as they face Liberty Division rival Methacton (15-7) for the third time Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Pottstown's Strom Gymnasium.
Liberty champ Spring-Ford took down the division runner-up Warriors 65-45 and 59-53 in their two regular-season meetings, but Talley and Co. will have to do it again to be crowned league champions.
"We are more concerned with winning one more game as opposed to the adage,' Talley said.
The Rams, who went 13-0 in league play, got 22 points on a white-hot 9-for-10 shooting effort from senior forward Gary Hopkins in the semifinal victory — though there were a couple of tense moments after Pottsgrove cut a 16-point lead to two in the second half before the Rams broke it open in the fourth quarter.
"I was pleased with the way we kept our composure during their third-quarter run,' Talley said. "I figured at some point the game would be sloppy after a long layoff and minimal practice. We handled adversity well and finished the game strong.'
Senior forward Nick Stanek (17.0 ppg.), senior guard Drew Kakareka (12.9) and Hopkins (12.0) spearhead an uptempo attack for Spring-Ford. Guard Ryan Cass and either forward Josh Tupper or center Alex Epps-Ortiz will round out the starting lineup, depending on the matchup, with swingman Cameron Phillips and guards Mike Olsen and Noah Collins providing a bevy of backcourt options off the bench.
"They have incredible depth and they can hurt you in a variety of ways,' Methacton coach Jeff Derstine said of the Rams. "They are dangerous on the perimeter, in the post, in transition, and they create offense with their defense. Coach Talley has done a great job this season, and he has their team playing hard and playing together.'
In the initial meeting with Methacton Dec. 19, Kakareka had five 3-pointers and 17 points and the Rams broke open a one-point lead by running off the final 13 points of the first half. In the rematch, Hopkins had 18 points and Stanek scored 17 points for Spring-Ford.
"Spring-Ford has been very impressive all season, including both times we played during the regular season,' Derstine said. "They really hurt us with their perimeter shooting the first time we played, and they were equally impressive with their inside game the second time around. On both occasions, Spring-Ford's intensity at the defensive end of the floor really made it tough for us to get into our offense.'
By the same token, it was Methacton's defensive effort in the second half of Friday's semifinal against Frontier Division champ Pope John Paul II that enabled the Warriors to break open a one-point halftime lead and come away with a 58-41 victory.
Stalwart senior forward Zach Jenkins led the way with a 14-point performance and senior guard Joe Ruhl nailed four 3-pointers on the way to a 13-point effort while also doing stellar work at the defensive end.
Jenkins (13.8 ppg.), Ruhl (27 3-pointers), junior forward Justin Ardman (11.8), junior guard Sean Mann and senior center Dillon Alderfer compose the starting five for the Warriors, with the trio of junior forward Tom Dyer, sophomore guard Richie Dunham and junior forward T.J. Tornetta prominent off the bench.
Methacton, which won the 2012 PAC-10 title and fell to Perkiomen Valley in last year's title game, has won 10 of its past 12 games.
"We know how good Methacton is and how disciplined they are,' Talley said. "They are well-coached and fundamentally sound. They have tough kids who defend for 32 minutes. We can't afford another 14-0 run (which the Rams allowed in the semis) and expect to beat them.
"We need to play team defense and rebound the basketball. We need to do the little things well because this game will ultimately come down to foul shots, loose balls and taking care of the basketball.'
Last year, it was the Warriors who ran the table in league play only to come out of the short end of a 44-41 decision to the Vikings in the final.
"Winning the PAC-10 championship was one of the goals we established at the beginning of the season, and our kids have worked very hard to position themselves for the opportunity that awaits them,' Derstine said. "In order for us to be successful, we will need to play great team defense and execute at the offensive end of the floor.
"We understand that we will have our work cut out for us, but our kids are really excited for the challenge.'
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.