POTTSTOWN - Tom Murphy was Spring-Ford's version of Allen Iverson Tuesday.
He provided the answer to concerns over a hand injury he sustained in the Rams' previous game with Perkiomen Valley. And the senior forward was the answer at the offensive end, sparking the Spring-Ford boys basketball team's 59-53 victory over St. Pius X in the Pioneer Athletic Conference's "Final Four" championship game at Pottstown High School's Strom Gymnasium.
With high-scoring teammate Ryan Kraft shut down in the first half, and held to just 10 points for the game, Murphy came up with his biggest point effort of the season. He netted a game-high 26 points - 20 of them through the first three periods - to help the Rams (22-2 overall) regain the early lead it lost in the face of a second-quarter surge that put Pius (17-7) up by one point at the half.
Along with shooting a herculean 12-for-14 from the floor, Murphy battled for a team-high 14 rebounds while dishing off three assists and blocking two shots. As for concerns over the thumb and wrist, he hyperextendedit in Spring-Ford's playoff opener.
"The trainers got me as close to 100 percent as they could," he said while clutching the cut-down basketball net, trophy of the Rams' third PAC-10 playoff title in the past six years. "I was getting good screens and open looks with them (Lions) concentrating on Kraft."
Some of Murphy's biggest points came in the game's final half-minute, when Pius cut Spring-Ford's lead to a basket (52-50). He converted a traditional three-point play with 23 seconds left, then made a game-finishing layup after Chris Flick (16 points) answered Kraft's steal-and-layup with a 3-point bucket.
"He was huge for us," Spring-Ford head coach Dave Caldwell said of Murphy, who closed within 40 points of the 1,000 mark for his scholastic career. "It was one of those situations where, with the intense play on the floor, if he had hit it (hand) on the floor, he could have been finished for the night."
Pius didn't let the Rams' early surge - six unanswered points to start the game, a 20-12 lead in the opening minute of the second quarter - finish its night prematurely. It rallied to take a 25-22 lead with an eight-point run, Joe Pritiskutch (12 points) wrapping a pair of jumpers around a 3-point bucket and a lane jumper by Chris Flick.
Flick made a second-shot basket from the lane to start the second half, upping the Lions' edge to 29-26. But Spring-Ford went on an 11-2 run en route to a 43-35 lead going into the fourth, aided by eight of Murphy's counters and another eight from Kraft.
"When you have two first-team, all-league players like they (Rams) do, you can't expect to stop both the whole game," Pius head coach Randy Reber said. "If one doesn't have a good first half, the other one probably will."
The final outcome, however, didn't diminish the esteem Reber had for his squad. Coming in the Final Four as the third seeds, the Lions got a double-double from Flick (16 points, 14 rebounds) and 10 more from Dave Bilinski, who also dished off a team-high seven assists.
"I couldn't be more proud of this team," he said. "I'd be happier if we had won, but not more proud."
Its latest Final Four title made Spring-Ford the only team, in the last seven years of PAC play, to win the playoff as the top seed twice. It previously achieved that feat during the 1998-99 season, a fact not lost on Murphy or his teammates.
"We wanted to repeat that," he said, "but we didn't think about it too much. We tried to keep it out of our minds."