Kieran Hefferan (above) and the rest of the West Chester East role players stepped up to help deliver a district title. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
As much as West Chester East’s offensive attack is based around seniors Andrew Carr and Tym Richardson, Tom Durant implored the rest of his lineup to look out for themselves. With his Vikings clinging to a one-point lead over Penn Wood at halftime of the District 1 Class 5A championship game, Durant –– East’s fourth-year head coach –– knew it would take some buckets from those who weren’t part of the program’s unfinished run to the district championship a year ago to finally bring it all home.
“They’re really just focusing on Andrew and Tym, so they just left us out there,” junior point guard Mike Dedda said. “Coach [Durant] said be ready to catch and shoot, so that’s what we were being ready to do out there: catch and shoot.”
And indeed, when the offensive barrage finally came for East in its 67-43 win, it wasn’t off the hands off Carr or Richardson: it was the other three starters, the three who started the season with almost no varsity experience for a program that graduated five of its top seven from a year ago.
“District one championship, you’re going to have to run on all cylinders and be able to connect and just be able to play as a team,” junior Kieran Hefferan said. “It’s not going to be only two players.”
Dedda, a 5-foot-10 point guard, opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer, but that wasn’t the shot that really opened things up for the Vikings (26-2), the top overall seed in the district.
The two that really broke the game open came off the hands of Hefferan, a JV/swing player a year ago who’d only gotten the briefest taste of the Liacouras Center floor a year ago. A 6-0 guard/forward and 3-point specialist, Hefferan had attempted five shots from distance in the first half this time around, connecting on one.
But when he found himself alone from the top of the key just before the midway point of the quarter and the lead only five, he remembered his coach’s words, and pulled the trigger. Nothing but net.
The next time down the court, Dedda found Hefferan in the exact same spot, wide open. And one again, Hefferan’s shot rang true.
“After knocking that first one down, seeing I was open again, I just took it,” Hefferan said. “It was a great feeling, just knocking it down.”
Suddenly it was an 11-point game, and the Vikings were rolling. The team that had all the weight on their shoulders coming into Temple’s Liacouras Center suddenly felt it melt off, the season-long expectation of winning a district title slowly turning into reality.
“It was amazing, just seeing the crowd go crazy and the noise coming from all areas, it was just amazing,” Hefferan said. “The pressure was on them to come back, and they had to defend us, and it wasn’t just a two-man team. It was all five.”
But the onslaught didn’t stop there. Dedda hit another 3-pointer from the left corner, and then freshman Jack Kushner stepped up, getting a couple post-up layups and a driving bucket to keep the momentum going.
Jack Kushner (above) had 13 points and 10 rebounds to help East to its district championship win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
West Chester East scored 23 points in the third quarter, 18 of which came from Dedda, Kushner and Hefferan. Of the starters’ 41 second-half points –– deep reserves Jackson Kulp and Joe Clark both hit 3-pointers in the last 60 seconds –– those three accounted for 27, with Carr coming up with 12 more.
“[Knowing our roles] is where we’ve grown from the beginning of the season,” Carr said. “We’ve tried to figure out exactly where everyone fits in, especially Mike Dedda and Jack [Kushner]. All those guys have stepped up and were really big in this game.
“They’ve figured out where they can do their job and then they’ve thrived.”
Kushner contributed a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Dedda finished with 12 points, and Hefferan added nine on a trio of 3-pointers.
Next up for West Chester East is the PIAA Class 5A state tournament, which opens Friday night. The Vikings will play Gettysburg (23-3), the No. 8 seed out of District 3 (Lancaster County and surrounding areas), though Gettysburg was the top seed in that district before losing in the quarterfinal of the District 3 5A playoffs.
Getting deep in the bracket likely means a matchup against Catholic League powerhouse Archbishop Wood in the state semifinals, with Archbishop Ryan looming in the other half of the bracket, and a number of other landmines along the way.
But with East’s supporting cast stepping up like they did Saturday, anything’s possible.
“Winning states would be a huge, huge thing for West Chester East and the community,” Hefferan said. “We’re going to be definitely practicing hard again and getting back to the basics.”