By BRAD SPAHR
DOWNINGTOWN -- The Downingtown West High School girls basketball team has barely been tested this season while rolling through the Ches-Mont National Division with wins in all 10 of its league games. The Whippets’ average margin of victory in those contests is 24.5 points. Half of their 10 league wins have been by 30 or more points, and their closest game was a six-point triumph.
With some big games upcoming, including archrival Downingtown East on Tuesday night, the Ches-Mont Final Four Tournament starting Saturday, and the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs, some serious competition at this point in the season is not a bad thing at all.
The Whippets certainly got that on Saturday afternoon in a nonleague game against a tough Hempfield squad out of District 3. In what was an extremely entertaining match-up in front of a fired-up crowd, Downingtown West suffered a hard-fought 58-54 overtime loss to the visiting Black Knights.
For the Whippets (14-6 overall), who had won eight straight coming in, it was a frustrating loss for a couple of reasons, even thought it proved to be a good test for what lies ahead.
Downingtown West led 32-19 at halftime and 45-38 after three quarters, so blowing those leads was tough to swallow. The Whippets also had to feel a little slighted by a couple of key late calls, or no calls for that matter, that didn’t go their way.
Trailing by a point with 21.9 seconds left in regulation, Downingtown West sophomore Holly Schanck calmly sunk the front end of a one-and-one to tie the game 51-51. Schanck missed the second free throw, but senior forward Kayla Feairheller, who was outstanding with a game-high 21 points, pulled down the offensive rebound. She proceeded to jump right back up for a close-range putback and appeared to be fouled on the way up. No foul was called, though, and Feairheller was instead whistled for a traveling violation once she landed.
Moments later, with Hempfield holding possession and seeking to go in front, Feairheller made a steal with 4.2 seconds to go and immediately rushed up court where she was knocked to the ground at midcourt. While the West faithful screamed for a foul, which would have sent her to the line, no call was again made as time expired to send the contest to overtime.
Take nothing away from Hempfield (16-5), which sits in second place in the Lancaster Lebanon League’s Section 1 behind Manheim Township, as the Black Knights were terrific after halftime in pulling off the shocking comeback. They outscored West, 32-19, in the second half.
Downingtown West, which received a terrific game from sophomore guard Maddie Dew (19 points), took a quick 53-51 lead in overtime when Dew hit a jumper just 11 seconds into the four-minute extra session. The Black Knights, though, closed overtime on a 7-1 run, and didn’t allow the Whippets to score again until a free throw by Dew with 2.7 seconds to go with the outcome already decided.
Along with Feairheller’s 21 points, and Dew’s 19, senior forward Lindsay Galczynski added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
"We started off the game so well," said Downingtown West coach Dave Johnson. "Then in the second half we just played absolutely terrible. Hempfield came out with a lot of intensity, and we didn’t match it.
"The girls haven’t been in this situation many times this season, and I think this is what we needed. Hopefully we can learn from it."
Hempfield, which lost to Manheim Township on Friday night before the early morning wake-up call to take the hour bus ride east, put three different players in double-figures. Center Alecia Rohrer led the way with 15 points, while Sarah Helgeson and Hannah Kelly both added 14.
Down by seven points entering the fourth, Hempfield opened the quarter on a 11-5 spurt and pulled within one, 50-49, with 1:27 to go on a great driving basket by Helgeson. Not long after, Helgeson made a key steal and then dished off an assist to Kelly with 33 seconds left that gave the Black Knights a 51-50 advantage. Schanck’s free-throw for West would force overtime.
Then in extra time and trailing 53-51, Hempfield swung the momentum with 1:52 to go when Rohrer scored inside, drew a foul, and hit the free throw to give her team a 54-53 lead they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way. After a missed jumper by West, Helgeson scored on a runner in the lane with 1:18 left to up the cushion to 56-53. The Whippets were then called for traveling, and Hempfield put it away by knocking down a couple shots from the foul line late.
"Our kids showed a lot of resiliency," said Hempfield coach Brian Rife. "We had a tough loss last night and then a long bus ride here today. I’m really proud of the way they battled."
NOTES:Downingtown West will host Downingtown East on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. for first place in the Ches-Mont League National Division.
All proceeds from the game will go to former Downingtown and West Chester University standout Tracey Kling, who is currently suffering from cancer. Kling helped Downingtown win back-to-back state championships in 1997 and 1998.
All ticket and concession money will go to Kling. Those looking to donate money to Kling can also do so by contacting Downingtown West assistant coach Greta Neff at email@example.com.
Hempfield 58, Downingtown West 54 (OT)
HEMPFIELD: Helgeson 6 2-6 14, Kelly 4 3-5 14, Rhoads 0 7-12 7, Hartman 1 0-2 3, Rohrer 7 1-2 15, Eager 2 0-0 5, Duscha 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 13-27 58.
DOWNINGTOWN WEST: Dew 7 4-8 19, Camden 0 0-0 0, E. Kuhlman 0 0-1 0, Galczynski 4 3-4 11, Feairheller 9 0-0 21, Schanck 1 1-2 3. Totals: 21 8-15 54.
Hempfield 9 10 19 13 7 -- 58
Downingtown West 11 21 13 6 3 -- 54
3-point goals: Kelly 3, Hartman, Eager, Dew, Feairheller 3.