|Staff photo by Brad Spahr/Downingtown East's Abby McKinley dribbles toward the basket during Tuesday's Ches-Mont National Division win over Downingtown West|
By BRAD SPAHR
DOWNINGTOWN - You really have to hand it to the Downingtown East High School girls basketball team for what they’ve been able to accomplish this season.
They went into the year with a low turnout to begin with, and making matters worse, their two best players, Nikki Thompson and Jess Ritchie, were lost to injury right off the bat. Despite that up hill climb they were faced with, the Cougars still found themselves in sole possession of second place in the Ches-Mont League’s National Division heading into their showdown against archrival and first-place Downingtown West.
On Tuesday night, Downingtown East’s improbable season got even better as they pulled off a shocking 34-31 road victory over defending Ches-Mont champion Downingtown West, snapping their 22-game league winning streak and handing the Whippets their first Ches-Mont loss since the 2010-11 campaign.
It was a gigantic win for Downingtown East (9-2 National, 14-7 overall) for a couple of reasons. For starters, they clinched at least second place in the National, and with it a berth into Saturday’s Ches-Mont League Final Four Tournament. They lead third-place Bishop Shanahan by a half game in the standings, and even with a loss at West Chester East on Thursday in their regular season finale, the Cougars would hold the tiebreaker over Shanahan thanks to their victory over first place West. Also, Downingtown East all but locked up a District 1 Class AAAA playoff berth thanks to Tuesday’s win.
"This is just huge for us," said Downingtown East coach Bob Schnure. "This was a real big upset and that’s a real nice sign when you can do something like that at the end of the year."
Downingtown West (10-1, 14-7), meanwhile, had a chance to clinch its second straight National Division title with a win on Tuesday. The Whippets, however, can still do that by defeating last place Avon Grove (0-11) on Thursday night in their regular season finale.
Downingtown East got a team-high 12 points from freshman guard Paige Warfel, as the Cougars set the tone right from the start by opening up a 10-2 lead after the first quarter of play. Senior forward Marisa Sheron also had a big game defensively, holding West standout forward Kayla Feairheller to a season low eight points, including just two in the opening half. Senior guard Abby McKinley, junior guard Kennedi Van Eyken and freshman forward Lindsay Kent all added six points for the Cougars.
The game was tied 25-25 after three quarters of play. Downingtown East eventually seized a 34-31 lead with 2:46 remaining when McKinley shook free for a key basket inside. Neither team would score the rest of the game.
Downingtown West certainly had their chances, though, but missed four different shots and turned the ball over twice down the stretch. Nonetheless, they had still had an opportunity to tie the game after calling timeout with possession of the ball with 8.1 seconds to go and down by three.
The inbounds pass went to Feairheller, who was trying to get a 3-pointer off but was triple teamed, forcing her to dish the ball inside to Lindsay Galczynski, who came up short on an inside shot. Holly Schanck corralled the offensive rebound, and missed a put back in the paint as time expired.
"Obviously we needed a 3-pointer there at the end, but weren’t able to get a clean look," said Downingtown West coach Dave Johnson. "East played a great game and did an excellent job on the glass, that was a big key for them. They wanted this game a little more than us and they came out and got it.
"We’ve had a nice run in the league. Hopefully on Thursday night we can start another streak. We still have a shot to win the division. We put ourselves in this position with our play this year and we’re going to try to take advantage of it on Thursday."
Downingtown West, who got a game-high 13 points from sophomore guard Maddie Dew, nearly was blanked in the opening quarter before Heather Camden scored inside with 8.7 seconds left to make the score 10-2 after the period.
The Whippets fought back and had the game tied going into the fourth. Van Eyken, who had a strong fourth quarter for East, scored with 4:01 left to give her team a 31-27 lead. West answered on a put back by Galczynski with 3:41 to go to cut it to 31-29. With 3:30 remaining, East upped the cushion to 32-29 on a free throw by McKinley. West responded again, however, on a basket by Dew with 3:03 to play to bring the Whippets within one, 32-31.
After McKinley’s key bucket with 2:46 to play upped the cushion to 34-31, both teams went cold.
With 32 seconds left, Kent missed the front end of a one-and-one. East’s Sheron got the offensive rebound, but missed on her put back attempt. The ball was tied up as players fought for the rebound, with the possession arrow favoring East. After the inbounds, Warfel was fouled with 22.3 left. She missed the front end of the one-and-one, and West’s Feairheller pulled down the rebound.
Downingtown West, however, was unable to even things up.
"No body thought we could beat them probably," said Warfel, who had eight points for East in the opening quarter to help them get off to a strong start. "Last time we played them tough, so we were confident we could win coming in.
"We came out so hard, and this was the best game we’ve played all season. It’s a very big win for us, especially because this is the team we wanted to beat all season."
Downingtown East 34
Downingtown West 31
DOWNINGTOWN EAST: Van Eyken 3 0-0 6, Warfel 5 2-5 12, Kent 3 0-1 6, McKinley 2 2-4 6, Sheron 2 0-0 4. Totals: 15 4-10 34.
DOWNINGTOWN WEST: Dew 6 0-0 13, Camden 1 0-0 2, E. Kuhlman 1 0-0 2, Feairheller 3 1-1 8, Galczynski 3 0-2 6, Schanck 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 1-3 31.
Downingtown East 10 9 6 9 -- 34
Downingtown West 2 10 13 6 -- 31
3-point goals: Dew, Feairheller.