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District 1 6A: Chester's 'payback tour' continues with second-round win over PW

02/20/2024, 11:00pm EST
By Joseph Santoliquito

Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)

CHESTER — Dante Atkinson kept telling himself, “Time to take over, time to take over.”

The Chester senior guard saw his big man, Clippers’ senior center Dominic Toy, go out with severe cramps in both legs. Chester was trailing by seven in the fourth quarter to visiting Plymouth-Whitemarsh, the defending PIAA District 1 Class 6A champions.

The switch flicked, and Atkinson went on a tear, scoring eight of Chester’s last 11 points to get by the No. 13-seed Colonials 59-54, setting up a District 1-6A quarterfinal match with Coatesville at Chester Friday at 7 p.m.

The No. 4-seed Chester (19-2) overcame spells of bad shooting, some dubious decisions and the loss of Toy, the Clippers’ muscle headed to UConn for football, for the last 2:33 of the game.

At the time, the score was knotted at 54-54. An Atkinson bucket, followed by a Daron Harris steal and a pair of Atkinson free throws with 55 seconds left provided the game-winning cushion.

Chester's Dante Atkinson scored eight points Tuesday night to lead the Clippers back to the District 1 Class 6A quarterfinals. (Photo: Joseph Santoliquito/CoBL)

It was Atkinson who stepped to the forefront when someone needed to take charge.

“It was a rough start, but it is not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said Atkinson, a team captain. “I didn’t know PW won the district title. I had to take over. Dominic was hurting, and he had bad cramps. This is what we prepared for. I was here last year when we didn’t make the district playoffs. I had to take charge and do something. I’m glad we came out.”

Chester’s pressure defense was once again the star. The Clippers caused six fourth-quarter turnovers and 17 overall.

“Dante knew the first half he didn’t have a good game, and he said at halftime, ‘I’m ready, I have myself together,’ and we trust our senior captain and did what he was supposed to do,” Chester coach Keith Taylor said. “That PW is a very good team, and they have a very good coach. They’re going to be tough in the future. Before moving up to 6A, people forget we were the two-time District 1 champions (at 5A). We have guys now who can play defense, and they want to play.”

Legendary Plymouth-Whitemarsh coach Jim Donofrio knew the game would come down to the fourth quarter. The Colonials are a young team who lost eight of their nine games by blowing fourth-quarter leads with less than four minutes to play.

“At some point, you either overcome that, or you are basically what you are,” Donofrio said. “We have nine sophomores, and they can all play pretty well. Some of them can really play, like (Mani) Sajid. We are just a hair away. We did a lot of right things.

“We made a lot of right shots. If you are going to win here at Chester, or on the road in a district playoff game, you gotta have a special fourth quarter when you are simply making shots. If you turn the ball over and (don’t) understand the quickness, that is something that you will unfortunately have to grow through. A basket here, a basket there. Basketball is a heaven and hell game.”

Chester was fortunate. For three quarters and a three-quarters of the fourth quarter, the Colonials brought the hell.

The Clippers had no answer for 6-foot-3 sweet-shooting sophomore guard Sajid, who finished with a game-high 27 for PW and played every minute. The Colonials forged out to a 47-40 lead with 7:02 to play, thanks to three straight free throws from Sajid. A trey by PW’s senior guard Ben Marsico (12 points) with 2:55 to play provided the Colonials a 54-52 lead.

Chester held PW scoreless the remaining 2:55, while Toy bulled his way to a tying bucket with 2:36 remaining, then Atkinson gave Chester the lead for good, 56-54.

The Clippers labeled this season “The payback tour,” after the District 1 blue blood failed to make the district playoffs for the first time in 53 years last year.

“We just have this mentality that we never quit, and I felt I had to bring the energy in the fourth quarter,” said Chester sophomore guard Daron Harris, one of the Clippers’ football stars who brought Chester to the brink of winning its first district football championship this past fall. “Basketball is not as physical as football, but we have the mentality. We are bringing that same intensity we played with on the football field to the basketball court.”

With the victory, Chester gets an automatic state playoff berth, while the Colonials will be placed in the playback pool to qualify for states.

By Quarter

Plymouth-Whitemarsh: 15  | 9  |  18  |  12 ||  54

Chester:  10  | 17  |  11  | 21 ||  59


Plymouth-Whitemarsh: Mani Sajid 27, Ben Marsico 12, Jah Pendergrass-Sayles 7, Jaden Colzie 5, Michael Pereira 3.

Chester: Dominic Toy 13, Jaseir Thompson 11, Calvin Williams 10, Dante Atkinson 8, Daron Harris 8, Vincent Coleman 4, Andre Brown 3, Jalen Harris 2.

Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, 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.


District 1 6A Boys

Second Round (Tue., Feb. 20)
1) Lower Merion 55, 16) Conestoga 49
24) Springfield (Delco.) 46, 8) Bensalem 42
4) Chester 59, 13) Plymouth Whitemarsh 54
5) Coatesville 77, 12) Cheltenham 60
2) West Chester Henderson 67, 15) Downingtown West 66
7) CB East 49, 10) Perkiomen Valley 44
14) Garnet Valley 63, 3) Spring-Ford 49
6) Methacton 54, 11) Central Bucks West 51

Quarterfinals (Fri., Feb. 23)
1) Lower Merion vs. 24) Springfield (Delco.)
4) Chester vs. 5) Coatesville
2) West Chester Henderson vs. 7) CB East
6) Methacton vs. 14) Garnet Valley

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