Andrew Hayn (@aghayn24)
It’s been a historic year for Unionville basketball. For the first time since 2006, the team earned a spot to compete for the PIAA State Championship. A win over Martin Luther King on Friday was their first in a state tournament game since 1981.
That set the stage for a second-round matchup Tuesday night at West Chester East between Unionville and Ches-Mont foe West Chester Rustin, the fourth time this season the two programs met. The stands inside Jack “Shug” Byrne Gymnasium were flooded with parents, fans and students, including Rustin’s groutfit-themed student section, for their last meeting of the season.
Both student bodies came in full force, chanting throughout the game and making outrageous noises to distract the opponent’s free-throw shooting. Unionville’s student section got the final cheer, as a “Start the buses!” chant broke out shortly before the final buzzer of Unionville’s 61-49 win.
Now, Unionville finds itself in the state quarterfinals. How long has it been since the school made it this far?
Even head coach Chris Cowles couldn’t tell you.
“I have no idea,” Cowles said with a smile. “People just tell me these things. I don’t go fishing for that stuff.”
Senior Logan Shanahan knows that his team has doubters due to the lack of success in the past at Unionville, not to mention the fact that the team graduated most of its starters last year from a team that didn’t even qualify for states, but he uses it to his advantage.
“I mean, I think that’ll always be there a little bit because we’re Unionville,” Shanahan said. “I think it’s more internal motivation.”
Shanahan and his teammates will need that motivation in the quarterfinals against another familiar foe in West Chester East. The Vikings have bested Unionville in both of their meetings this season, more recently a 60-52 loss in the Ches-Mont Championship game. According to Shanahan, these postseason games against familiar opponents are extremely competitive.
“Each game keeps getting tougher because they know all our plays, and we know all theirs,” Shanahan said. “If none of our plays work, we just tough it out, and it comes down to grit I guess.”
Unionville showed their grit on the defensive end early on in the second-round win, forcing Rustin to take more than five minutes to open up the scoring. The Knights finished with just six first-quarter points, all from junior Jacob Barksdale coming off the bench.
In fact, Unionville’s defense shut Rustin’s starters down the whole first half, as they held the Knights’ starting five to two points on 1-13 shooting in that time. Rustin junior sharpshooter Griffin Barrouk went 0-3 in the half, which is something Unionville focused on, according to Shanahan.
“We keyed on 23, the shooter (Barrouk). Last game he had 24 on us, so just don’t let him shoot. And then the big kid, 34 (Barksdale), we just tried to not let him catch it on the block,” Shanahan said. “I thought we did a good job executing both of those.”
After playing flawless defense in the first half, Shanahan and his teammates turned it up on the other end in the second. After briefly surrendering the lead early in the third quarter, Shanahan scored 17 second-half points to finish with 22, adding 12 rebounds to go along with them.
“We shot the ball pretty well. We made our free throws in the second half,” Shanahan said. “I thought we did a good job of breaking their pressure the whole night.”
Despite Barrouk’s attempt to lead a late comeback, scoring all 14 of his points in the final two minutes, Unionville sealed the victory.
Despite making a deeper run than the school has in almost 40 years, if not more, Cowles says his team isn’t phased by the high-stakes environment.
“I would say we see, like, a calmness, which is a nice kind of approach,” Cowles said of his team’s mentality. “It’s been pretty normal. I mean, you get on a bus and go play a game.”
This game will seem more than routine for Cowles and his squad with West Chester East on the other bench. East narrowly escaped a second-round exit, defeating Pottsville on a last second three from senior Tym Richardson to advance to the quarterfinals.
To get past East and into the final four, Cowles knows they need to slow down senior Andrew Carr, who scored 26 points in their last meeting.
“I think you gotta probably give him different looks, and then you gotta dig down hard or double, and maybe send doubles from different angles and stuff like that,” Cowles said. “Andrew’s a phenomenal player, so it’ll be hard to stop.”
Unionville’s senior-heavy starting lineup knows this historic season, as well as some players’ time wearing blue and gold, can all come to an end soon. Shanahan wants to make sure there’s nothing left in the tank regardless of when that happens.
“I just want to go out and be proud of what I did and not ashamed of anything, especially effort or anything like that,” Shanahan said. “Just leave it all on the floor.”
Sankofa Freedom 85, Lancaster Co. Christian 50
Chester Charter 72, Notre Dame-East Stroudsburg 55
Nativity BVM 77, Mt. Calvary Christian 59
Southern Fulton 59, St. John Neumann 57
Berlin Brothersvalley 74, Vincentian Academy 54
Bishop Canevin 40, Cameron County 39
Cornell 53, Elk Co. Catholic 44
Bishop Carroll 52, Shade 51
Bonner-Prendergast 67, Valley View 33
Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg) 58, Archbishop Carroll 49
Pope John Paul II 44, Allentown Central Catholic 42
Imhotep Charter 60, Montoursville 38
Tamaqua Area 72 vs. Susquehanna Twp. 58
Lancaster Catholic 84 Belle Vernon 82 (4OT)
Grove City 45, Highlands 38
Hickory 68, Huntingdon 47
West Chester East 38, Pottsville 35
Archbishop Wood 72 vs. Pittston Area 45
Unionville 61, West Chester Rustin 49
Archbishop Ryan 67, Elizabethtown 39
Dallas 78, William Penn (York) 51
Muhlenberg 78, Shippensburg 68
New Oxford 73, York Suburban 48
Milton Hershey 81, Obama Academy 57