ROYERSFORD — After a successful first two steps up the mountain that is the District 1-AAAA boys basketball tournament, Spring-Ford suddenly found the terrain significantly more rugged Friday night.
The fourth seed Rams spent much of their quarterfinal against fifth seed Pennsbury trying to extricate themselves from big holes.
And seemingly every time Spring-Ford would make a gradual ascent to find themselves in sight of the summit, the visiting Falcons were there to knock them back down the slope.
Pennsbury (21-4) used several punishing runs throughout to deal Spring-Ford a 69-52 defeat and advance to Tuesday's semifinal at Temple University against top seed Conestoga (a 68-60 winner over Lower Merion).
Spring-Ford (23-3), meanwhile, faces the defending state champion Aces at home Tuesday in a consolation game.
Derrick Woods, a 6-foot-8 junior center, scored a team-high 16 points (including three highlight-reel dunks) to lead four players in double figures for the Falcons.
Sweet-shooting junior guard Mekhi Bryant and junior swingman Cameron Jones scored 13 points each and senior guard Steve Ciotti scored 12 points for Pennsbury, which opened a 21-5 lead right out of the gate.
The Pioneer Athletic Conference champion Rams, who got 16 points from Nick Stanek and 11 points from Gary Hopkins, gamely fought back to get within 23-22 on an inside hoop from Alex Epps-Ortiz off a feed from Josh Tupper with 2:21 left in the second quarter.
But Jones canned two foul shots to ignite a 12-3 run to close out the half and put the Falcons up 35-25.
"We couldn't match their intensity early,' Spring-Ford coach Chris Talley said. "And we had to use everything we could to get back in the game, which we did a nice job of. But you can't get down early in the quarterfinals of a District 1 game.'
After Pennsbury jacked the lead up to 44-28 on Ciotti's three-point play with 5:21 left in the third quarter, the Rams again scrapped to within 53-45 on a steal and layup by Mike Olsen with 5:35 left in the final frame.
Once again, though, the Falcons took flight by answering with a 10-point tear — ignited by back-to-back slams by Woods — that settled matters.
"You know every good team at this level is going to make a run,' Pennsbury coach Bill Coleman said. "We just kept telling the guys, '˜Take care of the ball, and we're going to be fine.''
"They're just a quick team, and they have size and smart basketball players, too,' Stanek said. "Honestly, I think what killed us was transition points. They got a lot of run-out points on us. Our halfcourt defense, we were doing all right, but turnovers into run-out points killed us tonight.'
Pennsbury had defeated Spring-Ford 75-60 in the regular season, opening a commanding 49-23 halftime lead and cruising from there. Though the Rams showed a bit more fight in the rematch — getting inspired efforts from reserve guards Olsen and Matt Gnias — the Falcons simply had too much firepower.
"They have everything,' Talley said. "We fought, but like I said, if you can't match their intensity out of the gate at this time of year, it's going to be a long road.'
Bryant nailed three of his team's four 3-pointers, and continually hit big perimeter shots.
"He's been around three years, he's a great kid and he's got a huge heart,' Coleman said. "He's just a tenacious competitor. He's come through our ranks and put a lot of work in, and he's not going to let anyone beat him.'
The Rams, who saw a nine-game winning streak that included district victories over Kennett (72-66) and Harriton (61-48) snapped, will now try to bounce back in the first of two PIAA seeding games.
"It was a tough loss,' Stanek said. "But we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We have a game Tuesday and we have states coming up. We just have to come back tomorrow, have a good practice and move forward.'
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.
District 1-AAAA Quarterfinals
Pennsbury: Ciotti 4 3-5 12, Johnson 1 2-3 4, Bryant 5 0-0 13, Flagg 0 0-0 0, Allen 4 1-1 9, Woods 7 2-2 16, Jones 3 7-9 13, Doan 0 0-0 0, Daly 0 0-0 0, Dorley 0 0-0 0. Totals: 25 15-20 69.
Spring-Ford: Epps-Ortiz 2 0-0 4, Kakareka 1 0-0 2, Phillips 0 1-2 1, Cass 1 1-2 4, Gnias 1 2-2 4, Olsen 1 4-4 6, Foley 0 0-0 0, Hopkins 4 2-3 11, Tupper 2 0-0 4, Stanek 5 5-5 16. Totals: 17 15-18 52.
Pennsbury 21 14 16 18 - 69
Spring-Ford 7 18 14 13 - 52
3-point goals: Ciotti, Bryant 3; Cass, Hopkins, Stanek.