|Staff photo by Tom Kelly IV/Rustin's Adashia Franklyn goes up for a layup during Saturday'|
By BRAD SPAHR
CALN - Coming into this season there were a lot of people who thought the West Chester Rustin High School girls basketball team was the most talented in the Ches-Mont and the favorite to win the league title.
The Golden Knights will have the opportunity to prove that preseason hype to be correct.
On Saturday afternoon in the semifinal round of the Ches-Mont League Final Four Tournament, West Chester Rustin stayed red-hot as they won their 14th straight game with a hard-fought 39-31 victory over Downingtown East at Coatesville High School.
The Golden Knights (17-5 overall) advance to play for the Ches-Mont title on Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m. against defending league champion Downingtown West at Unionville High School.
Sophomore point guard Noelle Powell turned in a huge performance for the American Division champs, scoring a game-high 20 points and coming up clutch in the fourth quarter to help her team overcome a one-point deficit, 23-22, with six minutes to play.
Powell gave Rustin the lead for good on a jumper with four minutes left. In all, she had eight points in the final period, including 4-of-4 at the free throw line. As a team, the Golden Knights were outstanding at the line down the stretch, going 9-of-10 in the fourth.
"We really stepped it up when we had to, and played a great team game," said Powell. "We’re all so excited to make it to the championship game. We’ve never won the league title and it would mean so much to us to be the first team to do it.
"This was a tough game and they really came back and battled us. I think we got a little nervous there when they were all of a sudden in the lead, but we were able to calm ourselves down and stay focused."
Rustin’s standout center, junior Adashia Franklyn, was held to five points, all of which came in the second half, as she found herself in foul trouble throughout. Franklyn, who had a team-high eight rebounds, left the game with 2:30 to go in the first quarter after picking up her second foul and didn’t return for over eight minutes.
The Golden Knights had plenty of players step up. Sophomore forward Anna Steinmetz had six points, and turned in a terrific all-around game. Steinmetz calmly knocked down a pair of key free throws with 1:39 to go, which gave Rustin a 31-27 advantage. Sophomore guard Katie O’Hare also played very well with six points, including a big basket midway through the fourth quarter when the game was still up for grabs.
"We don’t win without Anna on the court tonight," said first-year West Chester Rustin coach Leah Kim. "She played the entire game for us and was huge. Noelle was sensational as well.
"Every team scouts Noelle and focuses in on her. She doesn’t care if she scores 20 points -- all she wants to do is win."
Downingtown East (14-8), the National Division runner-up, were led by a pair of freshman on this day. Guard Paige Warfel had 10 points and forward Lindsay Kent added seven.
The Cougars looked like they were going to be in for a long game, as they hit just two field goals in the entire first half and trailed 17-7 at the break.
They awoke in a big way, though. Downingtown East opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run and cut the deficit to two, 17-15, with 5:15 left in the period on a big 3-pointer by senior guard Abby McKinley. They eventually grabbed their first lead of the contest, 20-19, with 1:45 to go in the third on two free throws by Warfel.
"The kids really fought hard against a very good team," said Downingtown East coach Bob Schnure. "Our defense was good all game, and we kept them off balance a little I think.
"The problem is we’re not too potent on offense. That caught up with us in the fourth quarter, and really hurt us early on getting off to such a slow start."
Downingtown East led 23-22 with 6:20 remaining in the game after senior forward Marisa Sheron scored inside. However, the Cougars went cold from there and didn’t score again for nearly four minutes.
Their next points came with 2:40 to go when Warfel knocked down 2-of-3 free throws after being fouled while shooting a 3-pointer, cutting the deficit to 29-27.
A minute later, Rustin upped the lead to 31-27 on Steinmetz’s two free throws. Downingtown East immediately answered on the ensuing possession, when Kent scored with 1:20 left to bring her team within two again, 31-29.
Powell came up big at the line for Rustin from that point, hitting 4-of-4 foul shots.
After Downingtown East got the deficit to 33-31 with 55 seconds left on a long jumper by Warfel, Powell knocked down a pair at the line with 43.7 seconds to go to make it 35-31.
On Downingtown East’s next possession, Rustin got a key play from Franklyn, as she stole the ball near mid-court, then dribbled all the way to the basket for a lay-up that upped it to 37-31 and put the game away.
The Golden Knights, who beat Downingtown West 55-47 on Jan. 5, are excited to be in a position to play the Whippets again on Tuesday night as they seek their first-ever league title.
"I don’t think it’s even sunk in yet," said Kim. "We’ve been blowing a lot of teams out this season, and this game was a gut-check for us that I think we sorely needed.
"Credit to Downingtown East. They are a very well coached team and they played us really tough."
W.C. Rustin 39, Downingtown East 31
W.C. RUSTIN: Warley 0 2-2 2, Powell 7 6-9 20, O’Hare 3 0-0 6, Steinmetz 2 2-2 6, Franklyn 2 1-2 5, Hoy 0 0-0 0, Dolan 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 11-15 39.
DOWNINGTOWN EAST: Van Eyken 2 1-4 5, Warfel 2 6-11 10, Kent 2 3-4 7, McKinley 2 0-1 5, Sheron 2 0-0 4. Totals: 10 10-20 31.
W.C. Rustin 10 7 5 16 -- 39
Downingtown East 2 5 14 10 -- 31
3-point goals: McKinley.