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Matt Goul: It wasn't easy, but William Penn is in rare air

HERSHEY >> Jahaire Wilson stood a few steps from his teammates, taking it all in. He cracked a smile.

This season has not been easy.

Wilson has his second straight district championship, courtesy of William Penn's 56-53 rally in a title rematch against Cedar Crest Saturday. Before he got there, the slender 6-foot-4 senior endured a series of suspensions.

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In a strange twist, Cedar Crest played without two suspended starters. Wilson surely would have matched up with one. Instead, he experienced foul trouble and watched much of the District 3 championship from the second seat of coach Troy Sowers' bench.

Wilson seemed OK with that.

"If it wasn't for them," he said of his teammates, "I'd probably have lost my mind out there on that court."

Together they became the first William Penn team in school history to repeat as District 3 champions since 1950. They also became the fifth Bearcats team in seven years to reach the title game, no easy feat considering this is a big-school tournament and William Penn barely fields many other sports.

To get it done, Sowers preached "sacrifices" back in December to a team he says is the closest he has ever seen.

Coaches say that, but how many teams would be where William Penn is today?

Its school has faced dangers of a charter takeover.

It appeared on TV in January after a win at Harrisburg. A scuffle between players was the main reason why.

It played a basketball gauntlet unlike many: district-rival Reading, state-power Chester, out-of-state Capitol Christian from Maryland twice. Sowers said he devised that schedule to make sure his Bearcats didn't see a better team in the playoffs.

Does anyone emerge 25-4 without a unique bond?

"Heck no," Sowers said. "I don't think we do."

He had all five starters back from last season's title team, which won an unexpected title as a No. 8 seed. A gift arrived early in the fall, when junior point guard Montrel Morgan transferred from neighboring Hilda Goodling Impact Academy. Sowers acknowledged he thought the public school in York is where Morgan belonged, and the quiet, 6-2 kid with the biggest smile on the team fit right in.

Sowers hugged Morgan while giving him a gold medal and told him he's happy to have him.

Holy Cross came to watch Morgan last week. A couple of America East schools also are interested, Sowers said.

"I think it's really going to be hot and heavy for him in the summer time with AAU, but Montrel is a Division-I player," Sowers said. "He has a 4.0 GPA and he's very skilled."

Albany plans to watch Kristopher Johnson, another junior, as early as next week. Senior D'Montie Shaw will play at Northhampton Community College. Lebanon Valley is interested in senior C.J. Boxley.

Wilson isn't sure of his future — beyond the basketball season.

"Our job's not done yet," he said. "We want that state championship. That's our goal."

Lofty? Yes. The first to make that suggestion? No.

Stephen Dickson, a 2014 graduate, prophesied about a future state run last season at Giant Center. A year later, junior Trey Shifflett stated that is indeed the goal.

The second round of the PIAA tournament has recently been their road block. The journey continues next Saturday at Dallastown. Against a District 1 team, which will be Penncrest, in the first round.

Sowers will regroup his bunch, hunker down inside William Penn's gymnasium and get back to work. There, he told Shifflett in December, that Morgan would take his starting spot.

A few weeks ago, Shifflett got it back while Wilson sat out a game. Everyone seems to take a turn on this team in some way.

A year ago, Wilson stepped in front of a Cedar Crest player — both with four fouls — and drew a charge to set up Johnson's winning shot.

This year, Johnson stepped in. A 6-6 guard, he hadn't taken a charge all season.

Then came Cedar Crest star Evan Horn barreling to the basket with 12 seconds left. Johnson stepped in front of the play, hit the floor and preserved William Penn's precious two-point lead.

"He gets it from me," Wilson said of his teammate, whom he kidded.

Johnson nodded and confirmed.

Contact Matt Goul at 771-2045.