The nerves of two teams determined to turn a page were evident.
For Spring-Ford, one more game stood in the way of ending a Pioneer Athletic Conference championship drought that was making its way to double-digits.
Methacton, on the other hand, sought redemption from disappointment in the league final a year ago.
Through a tight first quarter between the Rams and Warriors, the game was calling for some team, or someone, to take the momentum.
Nick Stanek did better than take it. He stole it.
With back-to-back steals that resulted in layups, the Rams' 6-4 senior forward began to steal the show and supplied a mission statement for his team's defense.
With Stanek leading the way with a game-high 25 points, Spring-Ford took control on both ends of the floor and came away with a 56-48 victory over Methacton Tuesday night at Pottstown's Strom Gymnasium to win its first PAC-10 championship since 2004.
Further, it capped an undefeated run through the PAC-10 for Spring-Ford (21-2), which also got 14 points from senior guard Drew Kakareka and nine from senior forward Gary Hopkins.
"We worked so hard, we just kept focusing on the next game. We never looked ahead; the game at hand is the one we focused on,' Stanek said. "It worked — undefeated in the PAC-10 and PAC-10 champs. It's great.'
Zach Jenkins scored 12 points to lead balanced Methacton, which found its foil in Spring-Ford. The Warriors (15-8) went 11-2 in the regular season, only dealing with defeat against the Rams.
"I think (Spring-Ford) did a phenomenal job defensively,' Methacton coach Jeff Derstine said. "They disrupted us as we were trying to reverse the basketball and run some of our sets. They were denying the ball. They were really, really giving us fits at the offensive end.'
Along with Stanek, Kakareka and Hopkins and fellow starters Ryan Cass and Josh Tupper, the Rams also got contributions throughout from reserves Cameron Phillips and Alex Epps-Ortiz as they continued to dog Methacton.
It led to an 18-for-51 shooting night for Methacton (4-for-22 from 3-point range) and 16 turnovers. Spring-Ford had its share of miscues (22 turnovers) but shot 22-for-40 from the floor, including an 11-for-13 night from Stanek.
"I just went in there and stayed calm,' Stanek said. "I knew it was a big game, but you've got to stay level-headed in big games and my teammates found me all night long. And luckily I made the shots.'
Stanek was quick to praise the Rams' guards for a championship-worthy defensive effort.
"Our guards have great ball pressure which helps us down low as big men,' he said. "(Methacton has) good big men, guards and shooters but our guards really stepped up and put a lot of pressure on them. It helped me out to get a couple steals and helped everything.'
First-year head coach Chris Talley, who claimed the PAC-10 title in his first year back at his alma mater after a stint as Owen J. Roberts head coach, singled out Stanek and Josh Tupper, who rose to the occasion against the Warriors' best.
"The two guys that hurt us in the previous meetings were (Justin) Ardman and Jenkins,' Talley said. "Tupper and Nick asked me if they could cover those two. If they want that kind of challenge I'm not going to say no. Both of them did their jobs more than we could have even asked them to.'
Cass' 3-pointer to open the scoring propelled the Rams to a 5-0 lead in the nervy first quarter but Methacton got a boost from Tom Dyer, who subbed early and helped steady the Warriors.
Both teams had five turnovers apiece in the first eight minutes, defensive activity trumping offensive flow. The Rams led 9-8 as the team found their game with transition baskets.
That trend continued in the second quarter as Stanek, who added eight rebounds and three steals, stole the show. He sparked a 10-2 run for the Rams that included consecutive steals and run-out layups before a contested jumper in the key. Jenkins cut it back to 23-17 on a pair of free throws — the first trip to the line for either team — which is how the first half ended.
"We challenged the kids that if we're going to beat a good Methacton team everybody, individually and collectively, has to play good team defense. And we held them to 17 points in the first half. That's exactly what we were going for,' Talley said.
The game's intensity increased in the second half, Jenkins coming to life for Methacton, which cut it 29-27 on a Joe Ruhl 3-pointer. But Spring-Ford ran off an 11-0 run to close the quarter on a Hopkins layup in traffic, a Kakareka basket inside after an offensive rebound from Josh Tupper and a 3 by Stanek for a 36-27 lead. Then Phillips found Hopkins inside for a layup and Kakareka's jumper opened a 13-point lead through three quarters, 40-27.
A basket down low by Stanek was the final piece of a 13-0 run that gave the Rams a 15-point lead (42-27) before Sean Mann's two free throws finally stopped the run.
But the damage was done as Methacton could only cut the deficit as far as eight as the basket continued to conspire against the Warriors. Spring-Ford managed a few easy baskets while Methacton was forced to double- and triple-team the ball in an attempt to force late turnovers.
"I was proud of how hard our guys played. I thought they competed and didn't roll over when it got up to 13. We kept fighting and battling. They didn't stop. That's one of the things I've been most proud of our guys this season, they fight until the very end,' Derstine said. "I told our guys they can walk out of here with their heads held high. They laid it on the line and played as hard as we could, it just didn't work out for us tonight.'
Spring-Ford's previous trip to Pottstown's Strom Gymnasium ended in an epic 108-104 overtime win, when the Rams rallied from being down 17 in the fourth quarter. Through it all, Spring-Ford found a way to win each and every time out against a PAC-10 opponent.
"Battle-tested. We have eight seniors and they've been through it,' Talley said "They worked in the offseason, they trusted the new coaching staff in a small amount of time they were able to adjust and work hard.'
"We just kept our heads up as a team,' Stanek said. "The coaches kept pushing us, told us never to get down on ourselves, just kept pushing. Hard work pays off.'
Ruhl finished with nine points for Methacton, followed by Mann's eight and Dillon Alderfer's seven. ... Jenkins had the game's lone double-double, 12 points and 11 rebounds ... Both teams return to action on Friday in the first round of the District 1-AAAA playoffs. Spring-Ford, the No. 4 seed, hosts No. 29 Kennett while Methacton, the No. 17 seed, travels to No. 16 Ridley.