WHITEMARSH — Ask Lower Moreland's head coach Seth Baron on his reaction after Lower Moreland's comeback victory over No. 3 Pope John Paul II in the District 1-AAA semifinals and he'll say it was special.
For sophomore guard Dan Duffey it was unreal — the best win he's been apart of in his two-year career.
As for freshman Matt Cerruti ... well he's still not sure of how to feel.
With Lower Moreland trailing by a point with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the 6-1 freshman guard found himself as the one who could put the final seal on a 10-point fourth quarter comeback.
Cerruti launched a shot from the left corner, bouncing not once, but twice before scorching the twine, sending the Lions to a euphoric 59-58 victory over the Golden Panthers on Wednesday night at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School.
"I'm so excited about going to Villanova and for our seniors who haven't been there,' Cerruti said. "It's a great opportunity for everyone.'
"Against a team like PJP it was huge,' Baron said. "It's a great opportunity for this team. This team has got such high character. We rely so much on Danny (Duffey) and he had a great game, but we're lucky to have special players in that freshmen class that came in.'
Duffey finished with a game-high 20 points, including a 10-point fourth quarter outburst that aided in the Lions' thrilling comeback. Cerruti finished with 17 points in the winning effort.
"Just the way we drew it up,' Baron said.
Lower Moreland will face Holy Ghost Prep in the District 1-AAA championship at Villanova University at 8 p.m. It is Baron's first district final in his three years at the helm of Lower Moreland.
"It's special,' he said. "I couldn't be happier for the boys. The boys deserve it. I can't speak highly enough of their character and the work they've put in.'
Cerruti's last shot rattled off the front rim before bouncing up high and off the back rim before going in. It was a shot that the freshman was left calling the "greatest shot of his life.'
"When the ball hit the rim it was up there for two years it felt like,' Cerruti, who finished with 17 points off the bench said.
"First time it hit I had a bad feeling, I was just hoping we could get an offensive rebound,' Duffey said. "The second time it hit, I felt like it was going to go in just the way the season has been going for us.'
For head coach Jack Flanagan and the Golden Panthers, the loss was a bitter way to end the careers of the first four-year class at the school.
"I'm proud of what they did this season but also in their four years,' Flanagan said. "I consider myself really fortunate that I coached these kids, I just wished I could of did it a little bit longer.
"I'm proud of all my guys. They all played hard. There are a million plays in the game that happen. They made more than we did especially in the last couple of minutes when it matters the most.'
Mike Cianciulli led the Golden Panthers with 13 points while Tim Tadros added 12 as the Golden Panthers seized control of the first three quarters behind torrid shooting from beyond the arc and a pressing man-to-man defense that limited the Lions to 22 points in the second and third quarter after giving up 16 in the opening frame.
The duo keyed a 19-point second quarter as the Golden Panthers sprung for five 3-pointers — one apiece from Tadros, Cianciulli, Nick Giampetro and two from James Bleming, who finished with eight points in the contest.
Junior Matt Mesaros then showed a deft scoring touch in the third quarter as the Golden Panthers were again able to find open areas in the corner. Mesaros scored five of his nine points as PJP went on a 11-4 run to close out the quarter, giving the team a 48-38 lead entering the fourth.
"They went zone, which I think was different — not a lot of people zone us,' Flanagan said. "It gave us some open looks. We were able to build a little bit of a lead there entering the fourth.'
"Our feet were a little slow, we didn't transition over as well as we want,' Baron said. "That was a point of emphasis at halftime. It didn't carry over as well as we wanted it to in the third but it was a further point of emphasis after the quarter. The kids responded.
"You don't win that game if you don't stop them a couple times and we did that.'
The Golden Panthers held onto a nine-point edge midway through the fourth but a layup followed by two free throws from Cerruti narrowed the gap to 55-51 with three minutes remaining. From there the Lions matched the Golden Panthers shot for shot, finally catching a break after Tadros missed the back-end of a one-and-one with the score at 57-55. Duffey was able to penetrate the lane for an easy layup before a two-man press forced PJP to turn it over — setting up Cerruti's heroics to end it.
"Shooting wise it wasn't my best game but I kept getting to the basket for layups,' Duffey said. "That helped.'
"They blanketed Danny right away on that last play,' Baron said while standing next to Cerruti.
"If there's someone else that I want the ball in the hands, this guy is one of those guys.'
Lower Moreland 59, Pope John Paul II 58
Lower Moreland: Duffey 7 4-4 20, Cerruti 6 3-3 17, Madden 2 2-2 6, N. Cerruti 2 1-1 6, Rhoads 2 0-0 6, Zoubroulis 0 4-6 4, Totals 19 14-16 59.
Pope John Paul II: Cianciulli 5 0-0 13, Tadros 3 5-8 12, Giampetro 4 1-2 12, Mesaros 4 0-0 9, Bleming 3 0-0 8, McKeon 2 0-0 4, Taglialatela 0 0-0 0, Totals 21 6-10 58.
Lower Moreland 16 14 8 21 - 59
Pope John Paul II 14 19 15 10 - 58
3-point goals: Rhoads 2, M. Cerruti 2, N. Cerruti; Cianciulli 3, Giampetro 3, Bleming 2, Tadros, Mesaros.
Follow Sam Stewart on Twitter @Samuel_Stewart7