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Sports Article
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Panthers Reach Final Four
Written by Bradley Schlegal, Staff Writer

            The priority to defend home court has evolved into a rallying cry for Perkiomen School's boys basketball team. In his two seasons as head coach, Thomas Baudinet has stressed the necessity to win at the Hollenbach Gymnasium.

            Last week, the Panthers displayed poise and confidence down the stretch

in a pair of victories in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association State Tournament. They rallied for a 58-46 victory over Academy of the New Church on Thursday, Feb. 15. Two days later, they posted a 77-63 win over The Phelps School.

            Chandler Brooks finished with team-high 23 points for Perkiomen School (18-5), which has not lost at home since the 2015-16 season.

            K.J. Rhoades added 22 points and Tautvydas Kupstas delivered 12 points for the team, which advances to the tournament's semifinal round for the first time in school history. Baudinet called the accomplishment a step in the right direction towards the ultimate goal of winning a state championship.

            "Getting to the final four means everything," said Rhodes, a 6-foot-4 senior forward. "It's great."

            The Panthers (18-5), the tournament's No. 2 seed, will take on Haverford School, the No. 3 seed, at 5 p.m. Friday at the Neumann University, outside Philadelphia. The title game is scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday.

            On Saturday, they scored 16 of the final 22 points to extend a 61-57 lead against The Phelps School. Brooks tallied six points during the run to help them post their 26th consecutive home victory. According to Baudinet, the players take pride in beating some real good teams in their own gym.

            "We've got a real good crowd and we can't disappoint them," Rhodes said. "We wanted to keep the streak going."

            Perkiomen School converted 10-of-12 free throws in the final two minutes, 32 seconds. Kupstas posted five points during the final minute to cap the flurry.

Rhoades, the son of a college basketball coach, converted four 3-point shots in the victory over the Lions, seeded No. 7. He added six rebounds and two assists and a steal. Baudinet called the player a Swiss Army Knife.

            "K.J. made some huge shots over their zone," the coach said. "He struggled early in the season with his shot, and often I don't think he had the legs to hit those shots because we ask him to do so much."

            Two day earlier, the Panthers rallied in the fourth quarter for a 58-46 victory over Academy of the New Church, the No. 15 seed. Chandler Brooks finished with a team-high 15 points and five rebounds.

            Brooks, a senior point guard, helped orchestrate the comeback. The Winchester, Va. native -- whose practice time and game minutes had been limited in his recovery from ACL surgery on his right knee -- played most of both games.

            "The training wheels are off for Chandler," Baudinet said after Thursday's win.

Conner O'Brien and Rhodes each finished with 14 points for Perkiomen School, which scored just two points in the first quarter. Nick Guadarrama contributed eight points and 14 rebounds.

            O'Brien, forced off the bench due to foul trouble, delivered nine of his points in the fourth quarter to help his team extend a 41-38 advantage.

            "Conner was great," Baudinet said. "We couldn't have won without him. He made some huge shots. If you plan to go deep in a tournament like this, you're going to need someone unusual to step up in at least one game."

            In the first quarter, Perkiomen School missed eight of nine shots from the field and committed nine turnovers. The team, which appeared to struggle with the Churchmen's slow style and quick guards, trailed 12-2 at the end of the quarter. Baudinet said the Panthers appeared to lack the intensity needed for a state playoff game. Brooks admitted that they took ANC for granted early on.

            According to Baudinet, overcoming the 10-point deficit against ANC - due to its methodical offensive style - was more difficult than a traditional opponent.  "We needed to figure out a way to speed them up," the coach said.

            Early in the second quarter, the Panthers shifted to a full-court trap. Their new defensive alignment led to eight turnovers and sparked a 16-6 run. Brooks scored eight of the points, and Guadarrama pulled down four rebounds to help force a 20-20 tie. "We got locked in during the second quarter," Brooks said.

            Brooks said he sees himself primarily as a facilitator who attacks the basket during transition. Against ANC, he scored on several drives to the basket in Perkiomen School's half-court offense.

            "I saw a lot of gaps, and I tried to attack them and go to the basket or dish for a 3-point shot," Brooks said.

            Two 3-pointers by Rhodes and Brooks' foul shot staked Perkiomen School to 30-23 lead less than three minutes into the third quarter.

            Midway through the fourth quarter a layup by Glenn Sabb, who finished with a game-high 20 points, pulled the Churchmen within 41-38.

            However, O'Brien made the most of his playing time created in part by Kupstas' and Bryce Noel's and foul trouble as well as an injury to freshman guard Titus Wilkins.

"Conner really stepped up," the coach said. "When you get a chance to get in the game, you need to be ready." 






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