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HERSHEY -- Imhotep Charter had no reason to believe that it would finish its season anything short of PIAA 4A state basketball champion.
Led by a highly-regarded major college recruit who was surrounded by some of the best players in Philadelphia, the Panthers were right.
They finished the season as PIAA state champions by thumping District 10 champion Strong Vincent from Erie 80-52 on Saturday afternoon at Hershey’s Giant Center.
“This was one of our goals all year,” said Imhotep coach Andre Noble. “We always believed we would be here.”
Imhotep had plenty of convincing reasons.
When the possible competition for Imhotep in the state tournament is assessed, it’s no wonder the Panthers were thinking that way.
Imhotep won its five state playoff games—beating Bishop McDevitt, Scranton Prep, Audenried, Greater Nanticoke and Strong Vincent-- by an average of 25 points.
Then factor in a team loaded with talent that has to have major college teams assigning a recruiter just to the Panthers.
Senior guard Dave Beatty, headed to South Carolina, scored 19 points. Senior guard Daron Russell had 25 points, 14 in the first quarter as the Panthers wasted no time taking command with a 27-11 lead after the quarter.
The rest of the team are underclassmen who all played and all but three scored.
And if the USA Today High School Super 25 national rankings have any credibility—the Panthers were ranked 6th this past week—the gold medals had their names on them while they were still in the box.
The Panthers finished the season 31-2, losing only to Neumann-Goretti in December.
They won seven games against highly-regarded out-of-state teams from Baltimore, New York, Florida and Las Vegas and they won the Philadelphia Public League championship game over Martin Luther King.
They were District 12 champions.
“It’s our best team,” said Noble. “Our most accomplished team. No (Imhotep) team has done what it’s done nationally. We’ve done all we can do.”
Perhaps a note to consider for 5A state and Catholic League champion Archbishop Wood and the other PIAA state champions, regardless of class.
“I felt like this caped off our season,” said Beatty. “Number three in the country. Now they can’t doubt us.”
To its credit, Strong Vincent made the Panthers work by mounting a spirited challenge.
SV got off the deck after an early salvo from Imhotep to trim the lead to 12 points at 37-25 late in the second quarter.
But the Panthers closed the half by outscoring the Colonels 11-1 to go to the locker room at halftime leading 48-26. SV never got closer than 17 points the rest of the game.
Tennessee State recruit David Morris led the Colonels, who made it to the state final for only the third time and finished the season at 27-4, with 26 points. Aje Gore had 11.
This was Imhotep’s fifth state championship since 2009. They’ve lost three times in the state semifinals, the last two years to Neumann-Goretti.
With the majority of its team returning next season, it’s easy to see why Imhotep will have every reason, once again, to believe that it will return to Hershey to play for the PIAA 4A state championship.