HARRISBURG — Michael Porter Jr. has developed a knack for quiet 30-point performances.
The Fr. Tolton Catholic Regional High School star freshman didn’t score for the first six minutes on Thursday night in the Class 2 District 7 semifinal game against Salisbury High School. He doesn’t hog the ball or shoot excessively; that’s not his game. But Porter gets his points.
He had 34 on Thursday.
Just like Porter Jr.’s points, the Trailblazers’ control of the game was subtle. Tolton’s lead was a gradual build. Tolton (18-5), who is No. 2 in the district, never trailed and wore down Salisbury with a solid team effort over the course of the game's 32 minutes.
Tolton beat Salisbury 80-69 to earn the first district championship berth in the school’s history. This is only Tolton’s second year with a varsity team.
“It’s really exciting, 'cause it’s our first one,” Tolton junior Brennan Church said.
Church opened up the scoring for the Trailblazers, and junior Josh Boyer put in nine first-quarter points.
“We’re a good team,” Tolton coach Tyler Clark said. “Michael gets a lot of the press because he’s an exceptional talent. But, you know, we’ve got a lot of good players that can do a lot of good things.”
The game looked to be getting out of hand when Tolton took a 17-point lead halfway through the second quarter, but that’s when Salisbury punched back.
Salisbury (22-5), the No. 3 team in the district, made its biggest run of the game in the last two and a half minutes of the second quarter. The Panthers ended the half on a 13-0 run to pull within four points.
“That’s the defending state champion. They haven’t lost many games in the last three or four years,” Clark said. “We just told them (during halftime) to bounce back. It was our time, and it was our game.”
At the beginning of the third quarter, Porter Jr. decided it was his game now.
He used every bit of the court, from layups under the rim to threes five feet beyond the arc to take control of the game. He scored 13 of his 34 points in the third quarter.
“In the beginning, they were trying to take me away," Porter Jr. said. "Then they realized my other teammates can do stuff too."
The Panthers hung around through the third thanks to a defensive scheme that pressured the Trailblazers into turnovers. While Porter was taking over, his teammates had gone silent.
Salisbury’s 1-2-2 trap zone gave Tolton consistent problems. Tolton played its best basketball when players where able to cut through the gaps in the zone and create space for shooters.
“We tried to dribble too much out of it,” Clark said. “We should have shared the ball more.”
Tolton weathered any run Salisbury put together. Porter Jr’s teammates got their feet back under them halfway through the third quarter and helped the Trailblazers push their lead.
With three minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, Church put in a tip-back layup to give the Trailblazers a 12-point lead. Salisbury couldn't get within two possessions the rest of the way.
Tolton will play No. 1 Harrisburg on Saturday for the district championship. The last time the two teams met, Harrisburg won by two.
But Porter Jr. says that result doesn't matter.
“We were a completely different team back then,” Porter Jr. said. “I think we’re going to come out with way more fire for this game.”
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.