Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)
West Chester East, Downingtown West, and Coatesville all came into Tuesday with 6-2 records in the Chest-Mont National Division.
With only two of those three earning spots in the league’s playoffs next month, Tuesday night’s tilt between the Vikings and Red Raiders gave both teams the chance to keep their postseason fates in their own hands.
“We called this a championship game for us,” West Chester East senior Jack Kushner said. “We needed to win this one. It was a must-win. That’s what we thought coming into the game.”
West Chester East enacted some revenge in a 48-34 Ches-Mont National win at Coatesville after the Red Raiders defeated the Vikings earlier in the season.
West Chester East's Jack Kushner, left, and KJ Cochran played big roles in Tuesday's win. (Photo: Sean McBryan/CoBL)
The second go-around between the two teams went much differently than the first, which Coatesville won 61-58 on Dec. 20 in West Chester. The Vikings had a 13-point lead evaporate in that one.
Sophomore K.J. Cochran had 15 of his game-high 21 points in the second half on Tuesday as the Vikings rebounded from a slow start. Kushner (four points, six assists, five rebounds) started orchestrating in the paint and a defensive switch proved to be the difference.
The Vikings (7-2, 14-5) clamped down defensively after switching from zone to man and held the Red Raiders (6-3, 11-7) to 10 second-half points; West Chester East scored 31 points in the final half.
“We just thought we came out slow,” Kushner said. “After that we kind of locked it in. We switched our defense and moved the ball around a little bit more, which really opened up the floor and got us some chemistry.”
Coatesville knocked off Downingtown West last week to add some intrigue to the league playoff race. The Red Raiders are now a game behind both the Vikings and Whippets, but they have a season split with both teams, which play each other Feb. 2 in West Chester.
West Chester East had gone 5-3 in January after an 8-2 start, including a Jan. 10 loss to Downingtown West, and wanted to get back on the right track heading into the playoff season. The Vikings have won three straight Ches-Mont titles and want to make sure they give themselves an opportunity to pursue their fourth consecutive league championship. Three wins in their final three games (Avon Grove, Bishop Shanahan, Downingtown West) would lock up the National Division’s top seed for the postseason tournament.
“The last few games were a little shaky,” Cochran said. “So just trying to get our feet back under us. We’re still trying to find out how to click within each other. I think we showed a glimpse of it today. I feel like we’re just trying to click and it’s still a work-in-progress.”
The first quarter started slow for both teams, but the Red Raiders jumped out to a 5-0 lead with just under 4:00 left. The Vikings finished the quarter on a 7-2 run capped by a banked-in buzzer-beater from halfcourt by Jose Ramos, who had seven of his nine points in the first half to pace East.
Coatesville held the lead the entire second quarter, expanding its largest advantage of the game to 21-12 with 2:28 left before halftime. The Red Raiders led 24-17 at halftime.
In the third, East found Kushner in the middle — causing the defense to collapse — and the senior found his teammates for open shots. Price hit two 3s, Gallagher made an easy layup, and two straight buckets from Cochran gave the Vikings their first lead at 29-27 with 3:12 left.
Kushner got a steal as time dwindled at the end of the third and threw it ahead to Cochran, who finished with a slam as time ran out to give East a 33-29 lead.
The switch to man-to-man defense, Cochran’s scoring and ball handling, and Kushner’s all-around play kept the game in the Vikings favor the rest of the way as they outscored the Red Raiders 15-5 in the fourth. Price hit three 3s and Gallagher had all five of his points in the second half.
Kushner is a four-year starter and has won the Ches-Mont every season of his high school career; he played on the 2020 District 1 Class 5A champion Vikings with Wake Forest’s Andrew Carr. Kushner’s now the senior leader and has a prolific underclassman teammate by his side. The goal remains the same.
“I feel like I can be more of a leader and people look up to me,” Kushner said. “K.J. has skills so playing with him opens up everything. I know that if I do my part, he’ll get his buckets.”
“We got this one and now we got Avon Grove,” Cochran said. “Everybody is trying to come for our heads for sure. We just gotta take it one game at a time and beat every opponent.”
Coatesville is headed in the right direction under first-year coach John Allen after going 12-8 and 5-7 in the Ches-Mont national last season. Downingtown East, West Chester Henderson and Avon Grove remain on Coatesvillle’s scheduled.
The Red Raiders need three wins and two losses from Downingtown West or West Chester East to guarantee a spot. Either one of the Whippets or Vikings will lose at least one game when they face each other, which would force a tie for second place if the three teams take care of business in every other game.
“I see the culture is building,” Tom Durant said of the Red Raiders. “They need someone like [Allen], a town guy. He’s teaching them and putting them in order. He’s lovable and the kids love playing for him. There’s 2,271 reasons why,” as he pointed toward the banner in the gym showing Coatesville’s all-time leading scorers.
Allen is second in Coatesville history with 2,271 points only trailing LaSalle’s Jhamir Brickus; NBA great Richard Hamilton is third.
Coatesville: 7 | 17 | 5 | 5 || 34
West Chester East: 7 | 10 | 16 | 15 || 48
Coatesville: 12-37 FG (2-16 3PT), 8-11 FT
West Chester East: 17-39 FG (6-18 3PT), 8-11 FT
Coatesville: Brown 10, Marshall 8, A. Fowlkes 7, Harris 3, Proctor 2, Peoples 2, VanOrden 2.
West Chester East: Cochran 21, Ramos 9, Price 9, Gallagher 5, Kushner 4.