Jerome Taylor (@ThatGuy_Rome)
WEST CHESTER - After a mad scramble under the basket, Lola Flynn picked off another Downingtown East pass.
With 18 seconds remaining, it was the most important steal of the game, as it began the sequence that clinched the Ches-Mont championship for West Chester Rustin.
Lola Flynn (above) and West Chester Rustin captured the Ches-Mont girls' championship. (Photo: Jerome Taylor/CoBL)
“I don't focus on offense, I focus on defense because defense wins games,” Flynn said. “[Steals] have just been something I’ve been good at because I guess I’m quick, and I’m good at reading the person’s mind.”
The junior finished with 14 points and seven steals in the 46-42 victory over Downingtown East.
“It felt good, the girls are the ones grinding in the gym every day at practice, running those sprints being told every day ‘you need to be in the best shape of any team we play and never lose legs’ and that’s what we showed tonight,” Rustin head coach Lauren Stackhouse said.
That conditioning paid off late in the fourth quarter as the championship hung in the balance. The Knights gave up an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, thanks to timely scoring from Jordyn Daniel and Lauren Kent.
Powered by back-to-back 3-point shots by Daniel and Kent’s finishing ability, the Cougars took a 42-41 lead with under 30 seconds remaining.
“You know when [Daniel] is hitting threes like that, it’s tough because they also have that inside threat of Ari Smuda in there,” Stackhouse said. “Our original game plan was to double [Smuda] anytime she got the ball, but once [Daniel] hits those threes, you have to respect that. It definitely changed our defensive game plan.”
The Cougars' lead was short-lived. Because after a slow start in the first half, Laine McGurk came alive again in the last two frames.
During most of the game, the junior was primarily responsible for Smuda (12 points) on the defensive end of the court. But after Downingtown East took the lead, her ability as a shot-maker was on display.
Right after the Cougars took the lead, the Drexel commit flew down the court to hit a highly-contested baseline floater to give the Knights a 43-42 lead.
With one more opportunity, the Cougars got trapped on the baseline, and as they tried to kick the ball out, Flynn jumped in front of the pass for her seventh steal of the night. She was immediately fouled and knocked down two free throws.
“I was just so scared [Jordyn Daniel] was just going to sink another three,” Flynn said about the late-game steal. “As soon as I got the steal, they fouled me, and I was like ‘Oh no’ because I knew I had to make the foul shots, I was pretty nervous, but my coaches believed in me… and even with 100 people screaming I made them.”
“That’s just what Lola does, her biggest attribute to her team is her ability to defend,” Stackhouse said.
After another Cougars miss, McGurk would hit one free throw, which put the game out of reach, and that’s when it set in for Flynn.
“As soon as Laine got fouled, the biggest smile went across my face,” Flynn said. “I just looked at Elizabeth McGurk, and we knew…as soon as the buzzer went off, I just ran and hugged my teammates it was so great.”
With the win on Tuesday, Rustin now has a bye heading into the District 1 6A playoffs. They await the winner of Friday’s matchup between Spring-Ford and CB East.
“The message was, obviously, enjoy this tonight, but then get ready for districts,” Stackhouse said. “We have a bye which is great, we have a second-round home game, it’s time to care of business in districts now.”
West Chester Rustin: 13 | 11 | 12 | 10 || 46
Downingtown East: 11 | 10 | 7 | 14 || 42
West Chester Rustin: Flynn 14, L. McGurk 14, E. McGurk 11, Costin 4, Stackhouse 3
Downingtown East: Smuda 12, Kent 12, Daniel 12, Denning 6
Game Two: West Chester East boys three-peat
After dominating the game, an unlikely source clinched the three-peat for West Chester East.
In a mostly-filled Hollinger Field House, Jack Kushner handled the scoring load for the Vikings, but with 3:25 remaining, Jack Gallagher knocked down a three to give the Vikings a 16-point lead over Downingtown West.
Jack Kushner (above) helped lead West Chester East to its third straight Ches-Mont title. (Photo: Jerome Taylor/CoBL)
“That’s a dagger because they’re not expecting him to shoot a three,” West Chester East head coach Tom Durant said.
“We had Jack Gallagher hit that shot, I drove middle, and he was open in the corner, and that was a big turning point,” Kushner said. “It was definitely the dagger.”
Even though the Whippets fought back to get to the lead under double-digits, the fourth quarter deficit proved to be too much as the Vikings defeated Downingtown West 55-48.
Kushner led the Vikings (18-6), scoring 18 points. In his new role as a leader on the team, this championship means a little more to the junior after being an understudy to players like Andrew Carr (Delaware) and Tym Richardson (West Chester).
“It gets better every time,” Kushner said about being a part of his third championship. “We had Tym and Andrew, and it was hype with them, but knowing that I had a bigger role this year, I had to switch up my whole game, so it’s good to know that I had a bigger part of this win.”
The Vikings' defense also played a crucial role in the wire-to-wire victory as they held Downingtown West (17-6) standout Dylan Blair to just eight points after he had 16 in the semifinals, and scored 28 against them in a win last month.
East’s box-and-one strategy had Jose Ramos shadowing Blair around the court, leaving the Whippets to settle for contested mid and long-range shots.
Another factor that both Durant and Kushner say contributed to the win was the atmosphere in Hollinger Field House. After two long years of in-person gym restrictions, Tuesday’s matchup had the volume of a typical championship matchup.
“Seeing kids and the fans was huge,” Durant said. “Last year we were playing games, and there was nobody there, so seeing people in the stands… it’s therapy for these kids to be in a game where there’s a championship atmosphere.”
“Everyone came out today. We were talking about it at school a lot, everyone came out and got hype,” Kushner said.
Now with a third Ches-Mont championship under his belt, Durant knows that he and his team now have a new ever-changing post-season goal, which starts with beating either Conestoga or Abington in the second round of the District 1 6A Playoffs. The No. 8 seed on the boys’ side, WC East is just one more win from a berth in states.
“Are we done?” was Durant’s message to his players. “No, we’re not done. Now there’s districts is the next step, there’s always goals and new goals.”
“Now you want to do some damage in the districts and get to the final. That’s a goal. And then get to the states.”
West Chester East: 13 | 12 | 19 | 11 || 55
Downingtown West: 8 | 7 | 15 | 18 || 48
West Chester East: Kushner 18, Cochran 13, Ramos 8, Gallagher 7, Sherlock 6, Price 3
Downingtown West: Warren 18, Hardin 15, Blair 8, Shelton 2, Fromhartz 2