The Quaker City tournament may be long gone, but plenty of high school hoops action was available to entertain and spice up the holidays last week.

And while the results may not have been cause for sensational local headlines, county teams gained experience that could prove useful entering the heart of the season in January.

One of those boys' quintets would be Penncrest. which hosted a two-night affair at its sparkling gymnasium.

The first outing for the home team featured a 68-33 romp of

the Philadelphia Public League's Mariana Bracetti Academy.

The result wasn't so encouraging in the title game: The Lions fell to a talented West Chester Henderson team, 61-54.

Penncrest therefore takes a 5-4 record into the resumption of Central League play this week. Their previous three losses in December were to the league's elite teams: Ridley, Springfield and Upper Darby.

Henderson is a team of that caliber. So Penncrest certainly knows the performance level needed to be a factor in the District playoff picture come February.

"We're excited," said senior forward Pat Barrett. "We lost to the good teams the first time around, but we know that we have another shot at them in the second half of the season."

Of course, coach Mike Doyle will strive to lead Penncrest to the highest possible finish, but at this point he is happy for a reason that only a coach can be - his team has rallied despite losing its top returning player, guard Chris Conlin, to injury.

"Our team has really stepped up and the guys are having a lot of fun," Doyle remarked. "It's been good to watch. Besides Conlin, we only had a total of six varsity players returning this season."

Anyone seeing the Lions for the first time may not be overly impressed in the first few minutes of the game, as Penncrest does not have a noticeable "star" or a player of eye-popping athleticism on the court.

But given a chance, you can appreciate the coaching acumen of Doyle, who has his team ready to switch defenses frequently, and the steady if not spectacular effort by a number of players.

Focus for a moment on senior frontcourters Barrett and Andrew Geisel. Barrett set a career-high with 20 points in the first-round win, while Geisel played the leading role against Henderson with 23 points and 11 rebounds.

Both seniors demonstrated good positioning around the basket, as well as the ability to pass the ball and hit medium-range jumpers.

With Conlin missing, Doyle turned to guards such as E.J. Calderoni, Tim Brown and Andrew Wong. Brown spent much of the games handling the ball, while Wong's long-range shooting helped break open the Bracetti contest.

Calderoni contributed at both ends of the court with his quickness.

Meanwhile, Geisel and Barrett received support up front from sophomore Rick Bailey, who seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time underneath.

Despite the lopsided score of the first game, in the early going it appeared that Penncrest might be in trouble, as the visitors jumped to a 6-0 lead after three minutes.

Doyle then ordered a box-and-one defense to slow down

Bracetti's early hot shooter. Before long, with their opponent in a long scoring drought, the Lions were well on their way to the rout.

"We were a little bit nervous when we got behind early," Barrett related. "We've been used to jumping out quickly in most of our games. But once we got going, we had our best execution of the season at the offensive end."

Part of that attack package is some excellent foul shooting, with Doyle noting that his squad is "about 76 percent for the season."

Penncrest suffered too large a first-half deficit against Henderson for foul shooting to matter.

But it could prove useful in future Central League battles, where the Lions, Strath Haven, and Haverford could provide anxious moments for the league's pre-season favorites.

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