Matt Chandik (@MChandik26)
WEST CHESTER –– Tym Richardson was the first one to check out of the game for West Chester East in the final minute of Tuesday night’s Ches-Mont championship game against Unionville at West Chester University’s Hollinger Fieldhouse.
One made free throw later, Andrew Carr followed suit, the first time that he’d left the floor. As he went down the line of teammates to get handshakes and hugs, one of his teammates waved his arms forward to jokingly bow down to the Delaware commit.
Less than a minute later, Richardson, Carr and their Vikings teammates were back on the floor, mobbing each other to celebrate a 60-52 win, marking East’s first Ches-Mont League championship in school history. It was also fitting for the Vikings to have to go through Unionville to do so, considering Unionville knocked East out of the Final Four a season ago.
“It’s very, very special,” Carr said. “It shows the growth that we’ve been able to make as a program these past couple years, especially with making it to the Final Four and getting eliminated last year by Unionville, and the district championship and having heartbreak there (a 65-54 loss to Sun Valley). The redemption feeling is surreal.”
Surreal might also be the correct word to describe the Vikings’ turnaround during Carr’s career, particularly since after Tom Durant took over the reins of a program that went 3-19 in 2016-17. East tripled its win total the following season, then exploded to a 21-8 mark a season ago. The title win pushed them to 22-2, and they’ve been hardened by a rigorous schedule that has tested them time and time again. That resolve was readily apparent against Unionville.
“It’s awesome,” Durant said. “You play for all of those kids. It feels good. We knew it was a goal to get the Ches-Mont banner. We’ve got a really good schedule and played some tough teams like Malvern, Chester, obviously Coatesville, Academy of the New Church, Lower Merion at Lower Merion. The kids were locked in.”
West Chester East celebrates its first-ever boys' basketball Ches-Mont championship. (Photo: Matt Chandik/CoBL)
Ultimately, the Vikings continued to go as Carr went. The future Blue Hen, who was a 6-foot guard when Durant took over, only to shoot up four inches that summer and eventually grow to 6-8, still has a guard’s handle and the ability to run. The big man only connected on one of his first five shots, but found ways to stay active and involve his teammates by dishing out four first-half assists. He finished with a game-high 21 points and connected on six of his nine second-half attempts to go along with seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks.
With East nursing a two-point lead at the half, it was Carr that got East on the board in the second half with a layup, then finished a transition dunk after the Vikings got a steal. There was nothing subtle about it - the second half was going to belong to Carr and East.
“That’s kind of my mindset going into games most of the time, because I know that a team like Unionville does a great job with help defense, so I knew that there were going to be two or three people on me,” Carr said. “If you get your teammates going, everything will open up for yourself. It’s not frustrating if we can get open shots, which we did in the first half, and it’s just as exciting when my teammates score as when I score.”
Richardson, Carr’s senior running mate, was a problem for Unionville, too. He finished with 18 points and was a consistent force throughout. It was his swat on a Unionville drive to end the first half that allowed East to maintain its lead at the break, and he had an impressive putback on a Kieran Hefferan miss that drove a dagger into Unionville’s comeback chances.
“This is big. I can’t even explain what I’m feeling right now,” Richardson said. “When I checked out, that’s when I knew that we did all we could to win. I’m just thankful we did it. With a team like that, you’ve got to stay poised and locked in on defense. We knew that they were going to take a lot of threes, and it’s tough to guard that. We wanted to mix them up a little bit and not let them get used to our defense, so we ran 1-3-1, man here and there. Keep on mixing it up and get them frustrated.”
Unionville had absolutely no quit in them, though, and their array of 3-point shooters stretched East’s defense out. Unionville hit 10 3-pointers, led by a quartet of triples from Sean Neylon and three more apiece from Logan Shanahan and Peter Kucharczuk. Shanahan led Unionville with 15 points, Neylon added those 12, and Bryce Whitlock added 10 points, all of his damage coming in the paint.
“Credit to Unionville. I feel like they practice here with the way they shoot threes here. It’s like this is their gym,” Durant said.
For the first time, though, the gym and the Ches-Mont trophy belonged to West Chester East.