Basketball

Southern Fulton’s shot at PIAA 1A glory sees frustrating finish

Southern Fulton elite 8

Southern Fulton’s boys basketball team won its first two games in the PIAA Class 1A tournament, both on buzzer beaters, to reach the quarterfinals for the first time. But the tournament has been canceled because of the COVID-19 virus. (Courtesy photo)

By KELLEN STEPLER
For TheSportsPage.blog

The Southern Fulton boys basketball team made history on March 10, when it defeated St. John Neumann Academy in the second round of the PIAA Class 1A boys basketball tournament at the buzzer.

That advanced the team to the elite eight for the first time in the school’s proud basketball history.

The following day, however, the PIAA decided to suspend the winter sports championships due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“At practice the next day, the excitement was there (from the win),” SF coach Jeremy Hann said. “But there was something hanging over us – what was going to happen?”

The PIAA held off making a decision on whether or not the tournament could resume, but on April 10, Gov. Tom Wolf closed schools for the remainder of the academic year, thus canceling the winter sports championships.

“When I found out, I was like, ‘Are you serious?’” Indian senior Josh Stocker said.

Stocker was responsible for Southern Fulton’s opening-round win, hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to defeat Halifax.

“It was such an unreal shot,” Stocker said.

“I understand why (it got canceled),” sophomore Konner Pittman said. “I would have loved to play, but it’s the right decision.”

“We really, really worked hard,” Hann said. “We had our ups and downs during the season. We struggled to find our identity early. The flu had hit the team, and I had to revamp the lineup. Around our 10th game, I put a freshman (Dane Harvey) and a sophomore (Pittman) into the lineup.”

Harvey scored the game-winner on a layup at the buzzer against St. John Neumann.

Pittman said that the team lost their first game of the season by 21 points, and got to a record of 5-5. Then, the team started to turn it up, winning their next seven games in a row, and finished third in the District 5 tournament.

“We knew this could be the year,” Pittman said. “The chemistry was so good on the team. None of us had ever been to states.”

Justin Morris, one of eight seniors on the team and a two-time first-team Inter-County Conference selection, called it “heartbreaking.”

“You put so many hours into the game, with all the work we did as a team,” Morris said.

The Morris family had plans to move to Florida in the middle of the season, but decided against it.

“I wanted to finish my senior season out, and try to go as far as we can,” Morris said.

“(Morris) is the engine that makes us go,” Hann said. “He has great character, he’s a great athlete, and I can’t say enough. He was using the state tournament to showcase himself (to colleges) and had that ripped away.”

In the PIAA 1A boys bracket, only three of the eight teams that reached the quarterfinals were public schools — SF, District 5 champion Berlin and Cornell. The other five — SF’s opponent Chester Charter, Nativity BVM, Sankofa Freedom, Bishop Canevin and Bishop Carroll — were private/charter.

“It shows that private schools aren’t all that,” Morris said. “If you have heart, you can overcome anything. We had one of the lowest seeds in the tournament and no one expected us to get to this spot.”

Hann said, “We’ve been successful in the past, but we’ve never been to the elite eight. It leaves us with an empty feeling, but we feel good with where we were at, for us to do what we’ve done.”

Despite the unfortunate ending, the team, which finished with a 19-8 record, is still proud of what they’ve accomplished.

“It sucks that it’s over, but we can look back at the positive,” Stocker said. “And look back at even making it to the elite eight.”