Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The Ches-Mont semifinals were wildly entertaining, two of the four games going to overtime while the other two were highly-competitive contests. The championship games should be equally fun to watch, with two rivalry games taking over West Chester University’s Hollinger Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
Here’s a closer look at the girls' and boys' title games, which tip off at 6:00 PM and 7:45 PM, respectively.
Girls: West Chester Henderson (19-5) vs. West Chester East (17-6)
East 51, Henderson 46 (Dec. 7 @ Henderson)
Henderson 48, East 42 (Jan. 18 @ East)
Henderson: G Whitney Evans, G Ari Rivera, F Jackie Shea, G Lilli Bertrando, C Priscilla Powers
East: G Annalise Kubasko, G Annie Kerns, G Carly Bickle, F Sofia Keith, SF Lauren Horan
Sofia Keith (above, left) is a presence in the post for West Chester East. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
East’s attack is based on not having one star: Horan, a sophomore wing, led them in scoring in their semifinal win, but the 6-0 Keith has had her time as their leader, while the sharpshooting Bickle and point guard Kubasko had huge moments in their semifinal win over Kennett as well. And their reserves, led by freshman wing Kayla Cochran — are producing on both ends, giving Erin Listrani some real depth to work with.
Henderson put six in the scoring column in its semifinal win over Unionville, so it’s not like Greta Neff doesn’t have depth to work with as well. But there’s no doubt her team’s biggest strength is the one-two punch of seniors Whitney Evans and Jackie Shea. Evans, a 5-5 guard, is one of the top scorers in the Ches-Mont, a strong outside shooter who can get to the rim; the 5-11 Shea, whose two older sisters both starred at Henderson, is their defensive anchor who also makes plays on the offensive end.
Keep an eye on
The post battle between Shea and Keith is sure to be a good one, as both are two-way presences who can defend the rim, rebound at a good clip and score it in the post. If either one of them gets in foul trouble and has to spend significant time on the bench, that could be a big swing in the game. Both teams also like to shoot from 3-point range, and they’ll have a number of players not afraid to fire away; if one team gets hot and knocks down a few in a row, that certainly could swing things one way or the other.
An anonymous coaches’ viewpoint
“I honestly don’t know who I would pick at this point to win. That’s probably not the best answer; I just think it’s tough, both teams are very good. They’re two well-coached teams. I think that West Chester East is extremely balanced in terms of how they want to attack you, their style seems to be very fast-paced, they want to pick you up man-to-man, get a number of girls involved. Henderson has Whitney, which is huge, she dominates some of the scoring with them, but then again when she’s not hitting all of her shots the other girls do a very nice job of stepping up and filling big roles for their team. They did that well in the third quarter against Unionville, which was cool to see.
“Both teams, even though East wants to play at a fast pace, I think Henderson wants to do that as well, they show a lot of different fronts in terms of pressing and speeding the game up in different ways, which makes your teams really think and makes you be prepared for a ton of different things. I think it’s going to be a fun matchup. It’s not two different styles, but a different way for different teams to get to the same point.”
Boys: Coatesville (17-6) vs. West Chester Henderson (21-3)
Henderson 62, Coatesville 57 (Jan. 4 @ Henderson)
Coatesville 61, Henderson 44 (Jan. 30 @ Coatesville)
Henderson: G Connor Fleet, G Jack Bell, SG Nyle Ralph-Beyer, SG Jesse Smith, F/C Evan McFadden
Coatesville: PG Zuri Harris, G Dior Kennedy, G Amon Fowlkes, SG Marquis Peoples, PF Larry Brown
Evan McFadden (above, left) blocks a shot during Coatesville and Henderson's first meeting this season on Jan. 4, 2024. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
In Ralph-Beyer and Fleet, Henderson coach Jason Ritter has a couple players who can get their shot off in 1-on-1 situations from just about anywhere; that mostly applies to 6-8 senior Nelson Lamizana too, especially so if they can get him the ball in the high post. Having two guards who can both handle the ball against the Coatesville press and hit deep threes as well as attack the rim is a big plus.And they do it differently: the 6-0 Fleet is an excellent dribble-drive creator who can hit tough layups through traffic; Ralph-Beyer is a catch-and-shoot specialist who can knock down jumpers from all over the court.
Coatesville’s biggest advantage is its aggressive, versatile backcourt attack led by Harris and Kennedy. Peoples, Fowlkes, and several reserves — including Fowlkes’ older brother, senior Will Fowlkes — all give head coach John Allen the whole effort when they’re on the court, a usually-loud Coatesville fan section backing them. The Coatesville attack is relentless, and teams have to manage it for 32 minutes to emerge victorious.
Keep an eye on
Brown, Coatesville’s starting forward, is a 6-7 sophomore who showed his upside in a 15-point outing against Sun Valley in the semifinals. He’s a good shot-blocker and rebounder who’s getting stronger and more fluid with his movements month by month, and he’s also becoming a better offensive presence with his ability to hit catch-and-shoot 3s combined with an increasingly-reliable one-dribble pull-up.
As for Henderson, look out for their role players. McFadden, a 6-8 senior forward, has the ability to give them a post presence if he stays out of foul trouble, while Smith, a 6-1 senior, is perhaps the team’s best shooter when it comes to knocking down open catch-and-shoot triples. And of course there’s Lamizana, who hasn’t started the last two games but has D-I level ability and size and can be a real difference-maker when he’s locked in.
An anonymous coaches’ viewpoint
“I think it’ll be a really good game, obviously they split the regular-season series so this’ll be the tiebreaker. A battle of two different styles — Coatesville wants to play uptempo and pressure and live off turnovers while Henderson wants to play more of a half-court game. To beat Henderson, you’ve really got to take COnnor Fleet out of the game, he’s the lynchpin for what they do offensively, they’re really good offensively but just okay defensively and Coathesville is really good defensively. You’ve got to take Connor out of the game, limit the open looks that Nyle gets as far as catch-and-shoot opportunities and leave the game to Nelson to try and win it.
“On the flip side, with Coatesville, typically in the past you’ve been able to play zone but this year they’re shooting the 3-point shot at a high clip, so you’ve got to take care of the ball, value your possessions and get offensive rebounds. If you can find a way to get offensive rebounds and putbacks it gives you a really good chance to win the game. I don’t know who’s going to win. They both played to each other’s styles on their home court. What better way to decide the season than the best two teams on a neutral court to decide the league?”