Konner Metz (@konner_metz)
WEST GROVE — Linville Hill is in the midst of a historic season.
After tearing through their regular season and district tournament undefeated, the Warriors are battling through the PIAA 1A state bracket to try their hand at preserving perfection.
“They just don’t know anything but winning,” Linville Hill coach Mike Schatzmann said. “They won’t lose. I told them, ‘if we lose, it’s gonna be to a team that’s better than us, not one that out-hustles us.’”
Daniel King (45) had 15 points as Linville Hill moved two wins away from completing a perfect season. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Chester Charter was almost that team on Friday night.
The District 1 champion Sabers came into Avon Grove High School looking to hand their opponents their first defeat of the season, but fell just short in a barnburner of a state quarterfinal, 63-58, sending Linville to a 24-0 mark and a berth in the semifinals.
While the Warriors celebrated on the court alongside their large contingent of fans, the Chester squad walked off dejected, their hopes of getting to Hershey dashed despite a valiant comeback effort after being down 10 points at halftime.
“It was a weird game, it was a rollercoaster game,” Chester coach Dan Spangler said. “We were constantly on the cusp of breaking it, and then we missed a couple foul shots here and there. And then there was a play where I thought it was a kicked ball and our players stopped and it never got called.”
That play came with under a minute left, with Linville up 56-55. A low pass between bodies was deflected and the Warriors ran with it, senior guard Matthew Lapp converting a bucket in transition to extend the lead to three points.
Chester never closed within three again, as they missed some shots in their last tries on offense, and Linville broke the press in a couple key moments late to clinch the victory. Sophomore Stephen Smucker had a team-high 16 points for the Warriors, with fellow starters Lapp and Daniel King scoring 15, and Tim Fisher adding 14.
(Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
“We’ve been working the last couple practices, to break the press, because we’re expecting it,” Fisher said. “We’ve been playing some 5-versus-6. A lot of reps honestly and staying confident.”
Despite the halftime lead, Chester gave Linville all they could handle and then some, as evidenced by the final score. Senior guard Jayden Williams led all players with 20 points, flashing into the lane, getting to the free throw line and sinking foul shots without much trouble. Fellow senior Kevin Miller was just as impressive, hitting three long balls and tallying 17 points, along with accruing up a handful of steals and deflected passes in the backcourt by jumping passing lanes.
Coming out of halftime down 10, the 6-3 King accrued his fourth foul early in the third frame, forcing him to the bench for nearly an entire quarter. That was when Chester made their run.
Miller hit a corner three to cut it to 42-38, and by the end of the quarter, Linville clinged onto a 43-42 advantage, limited to just four points the entire frame by a swarming and aggressive Chester defense that kept them out of the paint compared to the first two quarters.
“When you have six seniors, no lead is scary,” Spangler said. “We play a pretty tough schedule all year. When you’re down in games like that, you just know how to fight back. It’s easy to fight back.”
“I told our guys just weather the storm,” Schatzmann said. “You got eight minutes to go out there, keep the lead, weather the storm until we can get [King] back in the ball game.”
Jayden Williams had 20 points in his final game in a CCSA uniform. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
That storm was weathered, as King immediately hit a bucket to start the fourth. Smucker converted an and-one layup a few minutes later, putting Linville ahead 51-44. But Miller answered with a three-pointer and then a contested layup that put him over the 1,000-point mark for his career as a Saber.
Chester briefly took a 54-53 lead, their first since the end of the first quarter, but they could only muster up four points in the final two minutes as the Warriors locked down once again on defense.
“We’re country boys,” Schatzmann said of his guys. “We’re not used to seeing the quick athleticism that we’re seeing now the last two games. But we just stick to our program, we stick to what works for us. The hard work on the defensive end and we come out ahead.
“We switched our defense to a 1-3-1 to try to stop that penetration. I told the kids, ‘if they’re going to beat us, they’re gonna beat us with a 30-footer instead of him driving.’”
Linville rotated between their normal starting five with senior Reagan Smoker and a taller starting five with bench piece and sophomore Giovanni Sejuste. Spangler said he knew Linville would play hard on the glass, especially with a flexible five that can play all five positions on the court.
Both teams had their second chance opportunities, but Linville especially when Sejuste and King were in there during the fourth quarter. The sophomore Sejuste played in the final minutes, knocking down 3-of-4 FTs despite being the youngest Warrior on the court.
“I hollered out there and said ‘do you need a timeout?’” Schatzmann said. “He looked at me and smiled. So I knew he was good to go. He’s a clutch player.”
Behind a large senior nucleus (seven players) and sophomores Smucker and Sejuste, Linville will look to continue their record-breaking season, facing off versus Berlin Brothersvalley (24-2) in a semifinal this Monday.
“We got unfinished business,” Schatzmann said. “We want to get to Hershey, they want to get to Hershey. I’m just driving the boat, letting the guys push it.”
Chester Charter bids farewell to dynamic duo of guards
Miller and Williams, the stars for Spangler’s team, couldn’t find much room to work on the last few possessions where the offense came up empty-handed. But all night, they were the primary ball-handlers, first-look shot takers, and jump starts to the offense when it got in a rut.
Kevin Miller (above) is the first 1,000-point scorer in Chester Charter history. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
And as for Miller’s individual accomplishment of being the first 1,000-point scorer at Chester Charter, his coach reflected on how impactful that achievement is to the program as a whole and Miller himself.
“It’s huge, it pretty much puts us on a level playing field with every other high school program,” Spangler said. “You come in our gym, now you’re going to see we have a 1,000-point scorer [and] we have two district championships.”
“More than I can even explain,” Spangler said of how special Miller has been to the team. “He’s overcome a whole lot personally, he’s overcome a lot at school, he’s overcome a lot at home, a lot of adversity. For him to be able to come out and play and perform at a high level and to score his 18, 19, 20 points a night, it’s just phenomenal. And defend with the same energy at the same level.”
Nicknamed the ‘wonder twins,’ Williams and Miller combined for 32 points back in February’s District 1 championship game, clinching the school’s second district trophy. Their first title came back during their freshman season, but this year’s was the first where Williams and Miller were major contributors, and key leaders.
It’s not lost on Spangler that the duo’s exit will leave a big hole to fill.
“They’re both the key to the whole program at this point,” Spangler said. “They do everything for us, they're vocal leaders, they’re emotional leaders. They’re our scorers, they protect the ball. Jayden gets six or seven assists a night. I don’t know how to replace it to be honest.”
Chester: 18 | 11 | 13 | 15 || 58
Linville: 17 | 22 | 4 | 20 || 63
Chester: Jayden Williams 20, Kevin Miller 17, Azarhis Smith 8, Samaad Powell 6, JaBryl Bennett 4, Zach Howard 3
Linville: Stephen Smucker 16, Daniel King 15, Matthew Lapp 15, Tim Fisher 14, Giovanni Sejuster 3
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