With it, Bearcats coach Troy Sowers and his players could reflect on their Dec. 28 loss at J.P. McCaskey. Their last loss.
Facing the second-seeded Red Tornado in Tuesday's District 3 Class AAAA semifinal, the No. 3 seed laid off the press, forced its opponent to shoot more from the outside and came away with an 81-76 victory. The win sends William Penn into Saturday's 1 p.m. district championship game against Harrisburg, which won its semifinal, 58-56, on a buzzer-beater under the basket against Wilson.
The Bearcats (26-2) led from the start in their district semifinal win against McCaskey (25-3), a team that had won 25 straight and beat them 79-64 in Lancaster.
"We were pathetic in every category of basketball at their place," said Sowers, whose team has been anything but that in 20 straight wins since then.
The first time it met McCaskey, William Penn committed 24 turnovers. Tuesday, those mistakes were down to 12.
McCaskey got to the free-throw line more than 30 times in their initial meeting. This time, William Penn finished with more foul shots -- the result of early foul trouble for multiple Red Tornados, including 6-foot-6 Devonne Pinkard, who's being recruited by multiple Division I mid-majors.
"It's unbelievable," Sowers said. "That's what we wanted to do. We let him get nine offensive rebounds in Game 1. We felt like if we boxed him out, we could draw and get some foul difficulty. We wanted to try and get to the basket. We got some of that early foul trouble, and it worked out for us."
As William Penn senior guard Tavon Parker said, Pinkard's woes were compounded by additional foul trouble for McCaskey starters Diante Cherry, Sha-ki Staten and Keyon Cowan. Staten and Cowan wound up fouling out.
"It made their bench come in," Parker said, "and in a game like this it played a big role."
McCaskey coach Steve Powell had to dig into his bench and insert four reserves during a second-quarter stretch in which the Bearcats' lead grew to 11 on several occasions. Players chirped at each other, and it resulted in the game's first technical called on Pinkard with 5:41 left in the first. He sat much of the first half with three fouls.
"They go to the line three or four times and then get the ball. Then you come around and get another foul, and the next thing you know you're climbing uphill. So then, the kids don't know how to defend."
William Penn's lead grew as large as 46-33 on Parker's left-corner 3-pointer two minutes into the third quarter. One of three 3s for Parker, he finished with 23 points. He was just a point behind Derek Wilson's game-high 24, which included one dunk that ended with a technical foul four hanging on the rim with 2:40 left in the game.
At the time, McCaskey could not capitalize on the ensuing free throws or possession. Two misses and a turnover kept the Bearcats' lead at 71-66. It grew to eight, as Ramel Stephens' score and free throw on a foul with 1:58 left squashed the momentum built by McCaskey.
Stephens, William Penn's sixth man, proved to be the closer with seven of his 13 points in the fourth quarter. Sowers wanted the ball in the hands of Parker or Stephens late. The two seniors provided crucial baskets throughout these 20 straight wins, whether it was Parker on the perimeter or Stephens darting inside.
Stephens, who was 7-of-7 from the line, had one advantage Tuesday in usually being guarded by McCaskey's second-biggest player. Because of that, he was able to break free and get the ball to draw a foul during the closing minutes.
One shout from the Giant Center stands proclaimed this was his moment as he walked to the free-throw line. It was where he converted the pivotal three-point play and again with 33.2 seconds left to push a four-point lead back to six.
"All that was going through my mind was just focus, relax and trust your form," Stephens said.
The 6-foot-1 senior credited his repetition, which is what district final appearances have become. Saturday will be William Penn's third title game in five years.
District final note: There will be no presale tickets for William Penn's District 3 Class AAAA final Saturday.
WILLIAM PENN (81)
Derek Wilson 7 8-11 24, Casiano 0 0-0 0, Ramel Stephens 3 7-7 13, Dickson 1 1-3 3, Jackson 0 2-2 2, Beard 1 0-0 2, Jahaire Wilson 6 2-3 14, Tavon Parker 6 8-11 23. Totals: 24 28-37 81.
J.P. McCASKEY (76)
Swinton 3 3-5 9, Diante Cherry 9 2-3 23, Fuentes 0 1-3 1, Bynum 1 0-0 3, Staten 4 1-5 9, Devonne Pinkard 4 4-7 14, Washington 1 0-0 3, Derrick Dixon 5 1-3 12, Cowan 0 2-2 2, Myers 0 0-0 0. Totals: 27 14-28 76.
William Penn 22 18 17 21-- 81
J.P. McCaskey 13 18 21 24 -- 76
3-point goals: William Penn 5 (Parker 3, D. Wilson 2); J.P. McCaskey 8 (Cherry 3, Pinkard 2, Washington, Dixon, Bynum).