Josh Warren (above) and Downingtown West split two earlier meetings with Coatesville. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Jeff Griffith (@Jeff_Griffith21)
All season, the Ches-Mont league has seen two frontrunners not only take over the top of the league standings, but also rule the upper crust of district one.
They just so happen to be long-time bitter crosstown foes separated by a five-mile stretch of route 30, who have added five thrilling chapters to their storied rivalry as district powers over the last two years.
Now for Downingtown West and Coatsville, who have each traded punches in each other’s gymnasiums this season, the scene shifts to Oxford High School where the Ches-Mont title will be decided Monday Night at 7 p.m.
The first meeting saw Downingtown go into Coatesville, snatch an early lead, never relinquish that lead, and take control of the league standings with a 49-39 win.
Four weeks later, on February 2, Coatesville flipped the script, jumping out to their own advantage in the Whippets’ gym on their way to a 47-42 win; they, too, spent the whole game with a lead.
“We’re really excited to get the tiebreaker,” said Whippet center Josh Warren. “We obviously split in the regular season, we feel like we dropped one last time we played against them, so we’re really excited to get another shot at them.”
Having seen each other twice, these teams have gotten to know each other as well as any teams can. Both head coaches, Downingtown West’s Jason Ritter and Coatesville’s Chuck Moore, agree that it’s simply going to come down to execution when the rubber match takes place Monday night.
“At the end of the day it comes down to how the players perform,” said Moore. “As far as film there’s not too much left to show them, when it comes to preparation there’s not much more I can do, it’s a matter of how they’re feeling mentally, if they’re up to the challenge or not--both teams--and it’s going to be another war.”
Moore’s talented lineup--most notably highlighted by senior sharpshooter Rome Boyer and big man Justus Martinez, as well as key roleplayers like Jordan Young and Trent Hugan--has been in multiple high-profile games this season and won, beating teams like Pennsbury, Reading, Lower Merion, and York.
For Ritter’s Downingtown West team, they’ve also seen the bright lights like their rival Red Raiders, and will have a chance to win their second straight Ches-Mont league, having won their first since 2008 in beating Octorara 68-53 in last year’s conference final.
Returning four players from that run, including three seniors, two of which--Warren (Cornell) and Ryan Betley (Penn)--are committed to Division-I programs, as well as fellow senior Dom Guerrera and junior George Gordon, that experience should play a big role in the Whippets’ mental preparation.
“I’m excited for my three seniors, because twenty years from now, if we were to beat a Great Valley--nothing against Great Valley but it doesn’t mean as much to my kids as beating Coatesville, your rival--so in twenty years, this is the game they’re going to remember,” said Ritter. “I’m glad it’s against our rival, who deserves to be there as much as we do. Top two teams in the district, top two teams in the league, it should be a fun one.”
That said, Ritter, like Moore, recognizes that outside factors won’t necessarily be the key for two teams who have been in situations like this before.
“Both teams have been in such big games over this year, I think nerves will come into play in the beginning but we’ve both been in such big games that it’s just going to come to the little things,” Ritter said. “Offensive execution, defensive rebounding sharing the ball. We always say, do what we do, don’t invent. Do what we do.”
While the Whippets’ and Red Raiders’ paths to the Ches-Mont playoffs were quite similar, their league semifinal victories were far from the same.
Coatesville took two overtimes to knock off Great Valley. Downingtown West shattered Octorara in dominant fashion (read more here).
But now matter how you slice it, they’ve found a way to set up what could very well be the biggest game district one has seen all season.