No matter how many big games a team plays during the regular season, the brighter the lights and bigger the stage, the more nerves come into play.
In Saturday's first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs at Parkland High, Abington coach Charles Grasty admitted nerves were a concern.
"Yeah, it was, believe it or not,' Grasty said with a chuckle. "Our statistician let our guys know that we hadn't won a state (playoff) game in 26 years.'
Not since the Ghosts defeated Cumberland Valley and Williamsport in 1988 (a team on which Grasty was a star guard) had they come away with a victory in PIAA tournament action.
The wait is over. The Ghosts hit their first four shots, two of them three-pointers, and never trailed en route to a 65-52 victory over District 11 runner-up Emmaus.
"We haven't won a state playoff game in 26 years,' Abington junior Matt Penecale reiterated. "You try to treat it like any other game, but you definitely have more nerves coming in, so it was nice to get a victory.'
It was also nice to get out to a fast start.
"We had a couple of good practices leading up to this and I think that contributed to our hard start,' Penecale said. "The past couple of games we came out a little slow, so we wanted to come and put them on their heels instead of the other way around.
"I think we did that, it was good.'
Penecale scored four seconds into the game off the opening tap, then Anthony Lee and Laz Mackrides sandwiched three-balls around another Penecale basket and the Ghosts were off and running.
"I thought our guys came in and played well,' Grasty said. "We shot 10 of 16 in the first quarter. Our guys shot with confidence, and then we were able to play some inside-out and were able to get some easy baskets. Once we settled down, I thought we played well.'
The Ghosts led by eight after one quarter and seven at intermission, but took complete control of the game in the third quarter. A 12-4 run over the first five minutes of the second half pushed the lead to 49-35.
"We always let our guys know that the first four minutes of the third quarter are very crucial,' Grasty said. "We were able to get a couple of offensive rebounds and put-backs and a couple of steals and got a couple of layups.
"I know it's clichÃ©, but the first four minutes are crucial, especially in a high school basketball game with only 32 minutes. I thought our guys came out with the intensity we needed.'
Grasty was impressed with the Hornets, especially with their speed and how hard they play for 32 minutes, but he thought his guards could cause Emmaus problems.
"We knew they were fast,' he said. "We knew we had to contest their shots and we told our guys that our guards should give them a hard time with our length. Our guards go like 6-2 and they are a little smaller.'
Abington limited the three Emmaus guards to a combined 19 points.
The Ghosts' depth and versatility was also a big advantage. Amir Hinton led the way with 20 points, while Lee scored 17 and Penecale 15.
"Anyone can have a big night,' Penecale said. "And we're unselfish because we'll get whoever has the hot hand the ball. One player is not really there to distribute.'
"They all trust each other,' Grasty said. "If it's not going their way, they can give it to another guy and let him get going.'
Abington will now face District 3 champion York, a 67-49 winner over Haverford, in the second round on Wednesday at a time and site to be determined.
This time, Penecale doesn't think it's going to take 26 years to get another state playoff victory.
"No,' he said with a smile. "Maybe two, three days.'
Abington (65): Mackrides 1 0-0 3; Jefferson 2 1-2 5; Hinton 7 5-6 20; Neely 1 0-1 2; Penecale 6 2-2 16; Lee 7 1-2 17; Bond 0 0-0 0; Brown 0 0-0 0; Gaines 0 2-2 2; Gallagher 0 0-0 0; Young 0 0-0 0; Porter 0 0-0 0. Totals: 24 11-15 65.
Emmaus (52): Nicolini 2 2-3 6; D.Kacheiries 3 2-2 9; N.Feiertag 3 4-5 10; Rapose 0 0-1 0; Polczynski 4 2-3 11; Prescott 3 0-0 7; M.Kacheiries 2 1-2 6; Fraction 1 0-0 3; Scarnulis 0 0-0 0; J.Feiertag 0 0-0 0; Wambold 0 0-0 0; Jaindl 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 11-16 52.
Three-point goals: Mackrides, Hinton, Penecale 2, Lee 2; D.Kacheiries, M.Kacheiries, Polczynski, Prescott, Fraction.
Abington 24 13 17 11—65
Emmaus 16 14 10 12—52