Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
WEST CHESTER — Vince Mostardi had no problem being blunt Tuesday night—and the West Chester Rustin coach brought some emphatic props with him to make his point. Before the Golden Knights took on one-loss Unionville, Mostardi addressed his squad and then pinned a purple West Chester University banner up in the team dressing room.
The point: West Chester University hosts the Ches-Mont League playoffs—and the Golden Knights were not going to get there unless they beat the visiting Longhorns.
It was that simple. It was that desperate.
Entering the game, Rustin sat as the No. 13 seed in the PIAA District 1 Class 5A rankings—one spot below the 12-team cutoff. In contrast, Unionville was No. 2 and undefeated in the Ches-Mont American.
Chase Hatton (left) and Tyler Giunta (right) combined for 29 points as Rustin picked up a huge win over Unionville. (Photo: Joseph Santoliquito/CoBL)
Mostardi made his point. The Golden Knights played arguably one of their best games this season, using balanced scoring, patience on offense and erasing the thought their season could be finished in a 55-46 upset over Unionville.
Rustin (8-9 overall, 5-2 Ches-Mont American) got a game-high 16 points from Tyler Giunta, 13 from Chase Hatton, 11 from Ian Schlesinger and 9 from Matt Nochumson.
Unionville (15-2, 5-1) suffered its first league setback, despite getting a sound effort from freshman James Brenner, who scored a team-high 11.
“This was a big one, this meant a lot to us,” Mostardi said. “We knew we were against a tough team, but we know what we’re capable of as a team. We needed to put it together. Tonight, we finally put it together. Our record is a little deceiving. Three of our losses are against top teams in District 1 [6A], like Garnet Valley, Methacton and Downingtown West.
“We’re 5A and we’re not afraid to play tough teams. What I saw tonight was a team that played together. They fought through adversity, we made the tough plays and won almost every 50-50 ball. As a unit, it’s what we’ve been preaching all season. These guys are in their second year playing together.”
Mostardi’s biggest concern was being patient on offense. At times this season, he said, the Golden Knights made poor shot selections from rushing their shots.
On Tuesday night, they worked the ball well. Rustin was 14-of-22 shooting in the first half and ended the game making 22-of-46.
Giunta had a habit of coming up with key steals and scores, and Hatton scored six of his 13 in the final quarter, going four-for-four from the line to seal the victory.
“One of our goals is to make the Chest-Mont final four and it’s held at West Chester, so we needed to win this game and we had that fire in us,” Giunta said. “This is January, but we were in a must-win situation. We knew we had to win this game to get to the districts. Tonight, we moved the ball great.
“If we play together, we can beat anyone.”
A Giunta steal-and-score led to a Rustin 27-13 with 5:09 left in the half. It was the Golden Knights’ largest edge, though with 3:38 left to play, Unionville was within 43-39, when Schlesinger came through with consecutive buckets. A big play occurred with 2:39 to play. Schlesinger had just scored, giving Rustin some cushion. But the Longhorns came down and proceeded to turn the ball over, giving the Golden Knights another chance to pad their lead even more, which Schlesinger provided.
“We didn’t execute from a defensive game plan perspective,” Unionville coach Chris Cowles said. “That led to them getting a lot of confidence. We never realty locked in from a defensive perspective. Our foundation always got us through and we didn’t follow player tendencies.
“There’s nothing really to do. I’m not really worried. This was a kick. It was unfortunate for us, but I think everyone will be more attentive moving forward.”
And quite possibly Rustin found what it was looking for all season Tuesday night—continuity.
“We needed this,” said Hatton, a two-sport, two-year star in football and basketball who’s just a sophomore. “This was very important for our standings. I didn’t really know the numbers, but I knew we needed to win this game tonight. The West Chester banner was put up tonight and that was motivating.
“Everyone was counting us out. Unionville is a great team. We came out with more toughness and more energy. I feel like the games we lost we shouldn’t have lost. We played together. We moved the ball well. The main thing is we played for each other instead of ourselves.”
Unionville: 13 | 15 | 7 | 11 || 46
Rustin 19 | 14 | 8 | 14 || 55
Unionville: James Brenner 11, Charlie Kammeier 8, TJ Anderson 7, Ryan Brown 7, Robbie Logan 3, Nick Diehl 2, Kevin Carson 2.
West Chester Rustin: Tyler Giunta 16, Chase Hatton 13, Ian Schlesinger 11, Matt Nochumson 9, Chas Davis 4, Sam Sproull 2.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.