HOLLAND — In many ways, the PIAA boys basketball tournament is much like the upcoming NCAA men's basketball tournament, the high school edition of March Madness, rife with quick starts, comeback runs, buzzer-beaters and players scrambling for every ball.
Save the buzzer-beater, Bristol's state-opening triumph over District 12 rival High School of the Future (21-4) March 8 at Council Rock South contained all of those ingredients.
"Watch NCAA basketball. Look at teams fighting until the end. Look at all the buzzer-beating shots there are in college,' said Bristol head coach Tyrone Lewis. "Look at the league tournaments — teams getting beat by one-two points.
"That's what this is going to be like.'
Up 25-17 at the half and 34-29 after three periods, the Warriors (17-8) stayed on top of the Firebirds the whole way, on its way to an eventual 52-47 victory that put Bristol into a Sweet 16 battle with District 2 runner-up Holy Cross (21-6) March 12 at Parkland High School. (Holy Cross defeated D-3 runner-up Hanover, 53-45.)
High School of the Future didn't have many players who could put the ball into the basket but they had two in juniors Dominick Morales (17 pts.) and Kameron Gilfillian.
"One minute, you're up big and the next thing you know, the lead has disappeared,' stated Lewis, who took part in the 2007 NCAA tournament as a freshman guard at Niagara. "Teams have players on their side that don't want to go home either. And they're going to fight and claw to the last second.'
Indeed. Morales capped a 10-2 run by the Firebirds in the fourth quarter that closed a 39-32 deficit to 41-39 with less than three minutes to go in the game. When he fouled out with 26 seconds to go, Gilfillian — who led Future with 18 points — hit a pair of 3-pointers that made the PIAA opener much closer than it appeared.
"When teams go up big on you, it's hard to fight uphill. If that game was cut a little closer than it was, they probably would have had a chance at the end.
"Having them fight uphill was our game plan and I think we did it well.'
After each 3-pointer made by Gilfillian, Firebirds head coach Henry Hunt called timeout, the last one coming with 2.6 seconds left and his team trailing by five.
"He might as well use every last second he can — anything can happen in basketball,' added Lewis.
In the fourth quarter, the Warriors got to the foul line 16 times, making eight of their first 10. They opened the door for the opponent however when they missed four of their last six free throws.
"When you get leads in the playoffs, you can't get comfortable,' said Lewis. "You have to learn to put your foot on their necks and bury them.'
Bristol didn't bury the ' birds but the advanced with seven players reaching the scoring column, led by senior Chad Palmer, who poured 13 points into the basket including 7-of-12 from the foul line.
No other Warrior reached double digits but Bristol received solid performances from senior Pierson Burton and junior Sieed McFadden. Each had nine points with McFadden doing a nice job crashing the boards while Burton brought the house down with a flying slam dunk in the third quarter that quieted a 5-0 run by Morales.
Future responded to Burton's dunk with another trey, this one by HSOF junior Shawn Morrison (5 pts.). The 8-2 run by the Firebirds to close the third quarter set up the game-ending drama seen by a packed house in Holland in the final frame.
It's hard to believe but three weeks after its Bicentennial Athletic League (BAL) Tournament opening loss to Calvary Christian, Bristol is still playing basketball.
Lewis says the 53-46 loss to the Cougars in BALs Feb. 12 in Northeast Philly was the best thing that happened to the Warriors this postseason.
"I should thank Calvary because they're the reason why we're at where we're at now,' said Lewis. "They just outworked us.
"It's about playing 50-50 basketball. From then on, it was all about getting 50-50s, playing nitty-gritty basketball, getting every rebound that you can get and getting every loose ball that you can get
We don't have to win them all but if we can get more than 50 (percent) we'll win the game.'
Contributing to the Warriors' win were junior Aidan Coughlin (8 pts.), senior Ryan Rigby (6), senior Ryan Weinkopff (4) and senior Brandon Wallick (3), who drained the only 3-pointer for Bristol.
HSOF senior Keyohn Palmer (2 pts.), along with juniors Nick Miles (4) and Chancy Scott (1) contributed to offensive effort for the Firebirds.
RESULTSBristol 52, High School of the Future 47(March 8 at CR South)High School of the Future (47)
Dominick Morales 6 0-1 17; Keyohn Palmer 1 0-0 2; Chancy Scott 0 1-2 1; Kameron Gilfillian 6 4-6 18; Nick Miles 2 0-0 4; Shawn Morrison 2 0-0 5. Totals: 18 5-9 47.Bristol (52)
Pierson Burton 3 3-4 9; Aidan Coughlin 3 2-2 8; Chad Palmer 3 7-12 13; Ryan Weinkopff 2 0-0 4; Brandon Wallick 1 0-0 3; Ryan Rigby 2 2-2 6; Sieed McFadden 4 1-3 9. Totals: 18 15-23 52.
High School of the Future 6 11 12 18—47
Bristol 17 8 9 18—523-point goals: HSOF—Morales 3, Gilfillian 2, Morrison; B—Wallick.