ARDMORE — Three years ago, Chester Charter didn’t exist.
But when the school opened up just two miles down 9th Street from Chester High, there were going to be expectations. That’s just what happens when you play in a community that can lay claim to eight PIAA state championships and another 10 runner-up finishes.
The question was how the Sabers were going to live up to those expectations.
It started by building a program. Chester Charter played nine guys Saturday afternoon, all of whom were juniors or seniors.
Then came challenging themselves. The Sabers took on much bigger schools like Penncrest, West Chester East and Unionville, only to get blown out.
But it’s all lead to winning, and with its second victory of the season against The Christian Academy, Chester Charter secured its first District 1 Class 1A title in school history. After trailing by as many as 10 in the second quarter, the No. 2 seed Sabers surged with a 16-4 spurt out of the half and took down the top-seeded Crusaders 63-56 at Lower Merion.
“It means everything for our school,” coach Daniel Spangler said of winning the district crown. “If you know the city of Chester, they support us almost as much as they support Chester High. We’re still new on the scene, but we’re getting a lot of love from the city.”
TCA really had control of the game for the entire first half. Senior Grant Sareyka sparked the Crusaders with 12 first-half points, helping his team jump in front 35-25 late in the second.
Although Chester Charter trailed by just one after the opening quarter, the Sabers were really searching for offense outside of Damir Baez. The 6-foot-5 senior showed some early versatility, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers while also finding his way on the inside en route to 13 points before the break.
And things looked like they might get even worse when Baez picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, sending him to the bench.
Although Baez wouldn’t return to the floor the rest of the game, he knew his team’s depth could prove crucial against a TCA side that really just used six players.
“I wasn’t frustrated because I knew my teammates had my back,” Baez said when asked about the foul trouble. “They picked me up and we got the win, so that’s what matters.”
That role fell mostly junior Sean Deshields, who scored 10 of his 12 points after halftime and added seven rebounds off the bench. With Baez sidelined, Chester Charter went small, playing four guards around senior center Tyler Howard.
“All year, we’ve done everything with our energy,” Spangler said. “The first two quarters, we kind of played their game and let them control the tempo. In the third quarter, I wanted to press and trap a little more.”
That, combined with Baez’s four fouls, opened the door for Deshields — a guy who has occasionally started for the Sabers — to turn in one of his best performances of the season.
“Sean is a catalyst and an anchor of this team,” Spangler added. “When he comes off the bench, he creates that energy that I talked about. Just because he doesn’t start doesn’t mean that he’s not good enough to start.”
Chester Charter needed that energy to sustain its run, though. Down 44-39 entering the fourth quarter, the Crusaders pushed back, getting as close as a point.
But the Sabers never gave away the lead. And they showed some grit to hang on, as Malik Cook-Stevens — who was just 1-of-4 from the line with a pair of front-end 1-and-1 misses earlier in the quarter — canned two free throws with 11.4 seconds to play, all but salting away the win.
And while the loss undoubtedly left TCA coach Malik Walker disappointed, the Crusaders will still get to play in states for the first time in school history.
With two losses against one of Pennsylvania’s best 1A teams already this season, Walker hopes TCA can grow as it readies to possibly play in March for the first time.
“This was a learning experience once again,” Walker said. “We can’t just come out and play one half of basketball.”
As the Crusaders packed up their stuff, they could certainly hear the Sabers celebrating next door.
After three long seasons — including two years that featured plenty of losing — this was a win Chester Charter was absolutely going to enjoy.
“We’ve been fighting since my freshman year to get a district championship,” Deshields said. “We’ve been working hard, believing in each other, and as a family, we’re going to fight hard each game.”
Chester Charter: 14| 14 | 16 | 19 | 63
TCA: 15 | 20 | 4 | 17 | 56
Chester Charter: 23-52 FG, 6-14 3PT, 11-17 FT
TCA: 22-62 FG, 1-12 3PT, 11-15 FT
Chester Charter: Baez 13, Deshields 12, Cook-Stevens 9, Stovall 9, Howard 7, Roger 5, Butler 4, Showell 4
TCA: Sareyka 19, Greene 16, Mitchell 13, D. Jones 4, Geathers 2, P. Jones