What a turnaround of a season it has been for the Pope John Paul II High School Golden Panthers boys’ basketball team. The squad went from a 2-7 record to clinching the PIAA District One 4A title with a 51-35 victory over the top-seeded Bishop Shanahan Eagles on Saturday,  Feb. 24 at Harriton High School.

“We had a tough road schedule,” said PJPII senior Caleb Zavertnik. “We really stick together. It came down to the Christmas break. We really came together and grinded it out. The back half of the year was really good.”

The second-seeded Golden Panthers boosted their overall record to 12-11 by the end of the regular season and earned their place in the state playoffs. Between working hard, keeping pace, running, staying together and working as a team as well as a family all came in handy for Pope John Paul as it took the championship.

“I kept talking to the kids to stay together,” said PJPII head coach Earl Wise. “We thank God for this opportunity.”

This year’s match up did not mark the first time these two teams were up to face each other in a crucial match. Shanahan had defeated Pope John Paul II in the semifinal round of last year’s tournament. Therefore, the Golden Panthers entered into this competition looking to avenge the Eagles this time — and they delivered.

“Last year, they beat us pretty badly,” said PJPII senior Dom DeMito. “They walked in to this game thinking they were going to push us around. We were not going to let that happen.”

The outcome did in fact end the season for Shanahan. The Eagles conclude with a final record of 10-14.

“We started off pretty slow,” said PJPII sophomore Danny Keenan. “We picked up a win over West Chester Henderson, which was big. We took it from there. It was a long season, but a solid season.”

Ayden Wise, a sophomore transfer from the Alliance Christian School District and son of Coach Wise, prevailed for Pope John Paul II with a total of 19 points and five assists.

“It means a lot to me,” said Ayden Wise. “I’m new to the school, too.”

Despite his own role, Wise could not have done it without assistance from his teammates. Zavertnik finished with ten points. DeMito added six.

“I think we played great off-ball defense,” said Zavertnik. “We made them take some tough shots. We were able to capitalize in transition.”

Keenan paced Shanahan’s offense with 11 points. Junior Ryan Ambrose had seven points and sophomore Anthony Aquila accounted for a half dozen points.

“We fought hard,” said Aquila. “We looked up to our seniors but we couldn’t play today. It is what it is.”

Pope John Paul II will host the District 12 No. 4 seed in the opening round of the PIAA 4A playoffs slated to commence on Friday, March 8.

“I feel like we can go for another run,” said Ayden Wise. “We all feel really good, practice has been good.”