York, PA - When Derek Wilson turned a mid-court steal into a one-handed slam, the pressure of the moment began to dissipate.
William Penn needed only a few free throws -- which were a struggle for a team that shoots about 64 percent -- to beat South Western, 61-53, and clinch the school's fifth straight YAIAA Division I boys' basketball title. The victory also locked up a top seed among Divisions I and II for the upcoming league tournament.
But to get it, the Bearcats (18-2, 13-0) had fight off a South Western (13-6, 10-3) team that would not go away Wednesday night. Unlike their previous meeting, which William Penn won by 24. Unlike most of their YAIAA games this season.
"I don't want any game to be in jeopardy," Sowers said. "I'd like to get every blowout win, but your championship games are going to be like that."
Sowers' Bearcats felt those tense times early and late against South Western.
Early, they led by just three points going into the second quarter. Sowers reminded his players during the break between quarters they were "getting nothing in transition."
They responded with an eight-point run that answered the coach's note. DaiQuest Casiano's steal and basket highlighted the sequence, which ended with a Tavon Parker 3 that forced Mustangs coach Nate Brodbeck to call timeout as the score ballooned to 23-12.
William Penn's lead hovered up to 16 points toward the end of the third quarter, but the Mustangs had one last run in them. They pulled within 52-49 in the final four minutes, but could not inch closer. Mike Duffy repeatedly got to the free-throw line but settled for hits and misses.
"Our goal was to keep them in the 50s," Brodbeck said. "We say against York High if you can keep them in the 50s, you give yourself a chance to win."
That chance started to slip as freshman Brock Geiman missed a 3 from the left corner, and William Penn's Ramel Stephens pulled down the rebound before drawing a foul.
Stephens, who converted five of his 13 points from the free-throw line in the fourth, could not convert this time, which led to Wilson's steal and slam. The dunk answered a two-handed jam earlier in the fourth by Parker Bean, who spurred the South Western rally and scored a game-high 29 points.
"Once I got that dunk," Wilson said, "I felt my team needed to pick it up and I needed to pick it up with them. That's when we started coming together."
Defensively, they tightened up. Duffy's driving to the basket slowed, and so did his trips to the line. Bean, who hit four 3s, could no longer get those momentum-building baskets.
Instead, Ohsajid Beard pulled down the last of his game-high 12 rebounds to help end the Mustangs' threat.
The setting was a familiar one. A year ago, the Bearcats needed a win late in the season at South Western to gain a share of the division lead. This time, though, it was much closer. Closer than the Bearcats had been used to just a week ago.
"Those are situations you can't talk about," Sowers said, "you have to live."
WILLIAM PENN (61)
Derek Wilson 5 0-0 11, Jahaire Wilson 2 1-2 5, Ohsajid Beard 3 1-2 7, Stephen Dickson 1 2-4 4, Tavon Parker 6 4-8 17, Ramel Stephens 4 5-7 13, DaiQuest Casiano 2 0-2 4. Totals 23 13-25 61.
SOUTH WESTERN (53)
Austin Cook 2 2-2 6, Parker Bean 10 5-8 29, Jordan Smith 0 0-0 0, Scott Hess 1 0-0 2, Mike Duffy 2 7-13, Spencer McKercher 1 0-0 2, Brock Geiman 1 0-0 3. Totals 17 14-23 53.
William Penn 15 18 17 11 -- 61
South Western 12 11 12 18 -- 53
3-point goals -- William Penn 2 (D. Wilson, Parker); South Western 5 (Bean 4, Geiman).
JV score -- William Penn, 56-43.