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BOYS BASKETBALL: Sorber, Williams Spearhead Archbishop Ryan's Return to PCL Title Game

By Rich Flanagan Photos: Lennie Malmgren, 02/22/24, 3:45PM EST


Photos/Video: Lennie Malmgren & Rich Flanagan

By: Rich Flanagan

PHILADELPHIA - What looked like a missed three-pointer turned out to be a moment that signified the maturation of Archbishop Ryan’s most important players.

Darren Williams and Thomas Sorber have been one of the Philadelphia Catholic League’s most dynamic tandems since each entered the starting lineup as sophomores when Williams, a four-year member of the program, took over a starting guard spot vacated by Dominic Vazquez and Sorber transferred in from Trenton Catholic (N.J.). Jaden Murray launched a three from the corner that went long and Sorber jumped and tapped the ball ever so slightly to Williams for what appeared to be a pinpoint pass. Williams was prepared for it, practically anticipating it, and knew his veteran teammate would get it to him.

It was emblematic of the relationship the two have developed in their time together and personified the evolution of the two Division I commits. It also brought about a win that has taken several years to construct.

Williams scored all 13 points in the second half while Sorber had 11 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks as Archbishop Ryan downed Neumann-Goretti, 48-43 in the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals at the Palestra.

The victory sends the Raiders to the league title for the second time in three years where they will meet Roman Catholic, a team it defeated in the regular season finale, on Monday night.

Relive the excitement from the 2024 PCL semifinals in this video by Lennie Malmgren :

Williams found it difficult to get the ball in the basket in the first half as clean looks from deep weren’t there and the collapsing defense around Sorber actually hampered him with Neumann-Goretti defenders converging in the lane. The 6-foot-4 senior headed to play at Florida Gulf Coast next season expected more of himself, and he delivered after halftime.

“I know I didn’t have it going in the first half and my team needed me to step up,” Williams said. “I was still working defensively but they needed me to step up scoring-wise. I took that initiative and I know my guys believe in me with every shot I take. They trust me with the ball in my hands.”

Williams scored the opening field goal of the second half then drilled his first three-pointer of the night to cut the deficit to 30-27. Hofstra commit Amir Williams answered for Neumann-Goretti with five straight points, including his lone trey of the night, and the Saints led by six. Murray, who poured in 11 points and five rebounds, scored back-to-back baskets then Sorber finished strong inside, and Archbishop Ryan (17-7) trailed by four.

Archbishop Ryan senior Darren Williams #2 - PSD Photo by Lennie Malmgren

Williams completed a 10-point third quarter as he finished with his patented left-handed layup then a huge block from Sorber turned into Williams leading the break, and he finished it off with a smooth jumper off the glass from just outside the paint to give the Raiders a 38-37 lead at the 1:19 mark of the quarter.

Sorber was a defensive stalwart once again and several of his blocks came out on the perimeter as he used his length to tip and in some cases send the ball flying out of bounds. He recorded two fouls in the second quarter that forced him to sit for the remainder of the opening half, but the 6-10 Georgetown commit displayed an aspect of his game that has become so translatable to the next level: playing without fouling.

“It’s very difficult not to jump and go for blocks I wanted to go for,” Sorber said. “My teammates and coaches told me to keep my composure and just not jump.”

Archbishop ryan vs. Neumann-Goretti - PSD PCL Semifinal Highlights by Rich Flanagan

A hallmark of head coach Joe Zeglinski’s style with this current group is his laissez-faire attitude to allow Williams and Sorber to figure things out on their own. Throughout the night, Sorber would direct teammates where to go, and down the stretch he implored the more inexperienced players to be prepared for the final push Neumann-Goretti would bring. The Saints have been to the Palestra with regularity under Carl Arrigale and they needed one last run.

Archbishop Ryan senior and PCL Co-MVP Thomas Sorber #34 - PSD Photo by Lennie Malmgren

DeShawn Yates scored six of the final eight points for Neumann-Goretti (21-3) and gave his side the lead at 39-38 with a fadeaway jumper in the lane. On the ensuing possession, Sorber caught the ball at the top of the key, took two dribbles to the left elbow and as he drew the attention of the Saints defense, he fired a pass to the wing and senior Ryan Everett hit the biggest shot of the night to that point with his third three-pointer, and the Raiders were in front, 41-39 with 5:24 left to play. Archbishop Ryan’s next basket was Sorber’s tip to Williams then sophomore point guard Matt Johnson turned the corner and scored to put the Raiders up, 45-39 with 3:45 remaining.

Larenzo Jerkins, getting his first opportunity to play at the Palestra after having to sit out last season due to PIAA transfer rules, had 13 points in the first half but was held scoreless by Sorber in the second.  

With the Saints down four, he stepped into a mid-range jumper from the right elbow, but Sorber’s length affected it just enough to force a miss and Williams hauled it in to commence the impending celebration. Williams nailed one free throw and Sorber hit two to close things out.

Zeglinski has given Williams and Sorber tremendous freedom over their three seasons together. He knows they have battled adversity, first losing in the title game to the Saints two years ago then failing to make it back to the Palestra last season with a loss to West Catholic at home, but the experience and perspective they have gained as a result of those two losses paved the way for Wednesday’s triumphant return.

“These last three years, these guys plus a few others have been so connected,” Zeglinski said. “We had a tough loss in the quarterfinal last year, and they’ve been so hungry since that game. We had a few bumps in the road early, but we learned from those mistakes. They really wanted it and you saw that with our defense in the fourth quarter while controlling the pace in the second half.”

The Raiders meet the Cahillites on Monday night with a chance to secure the program’s first Philadelphia Catholic League title.

It’s a monumental moment, just as it was when the entire community traveled to University City two seasons ago, and it will be a sight to behold for the title game. Zeglinski knows this group is excited for the moment as their careers have been building to this.

“We’ve been working for this over four years and grinding out wins,” Zeglinski said. “They step up in the moment.”