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Westtown tops Germantown Friends for FSL title

02/18/2015, 1:43am EST
By Josh Verlin

Jonathan Kasibabu (above) and Westtown were too much for Germantown Friends in a 52-44 win. (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

It didn’t take much basketball knowledge to look at the court and see a bit of a disparity between the two teams on the court for the Friends Schools League final at Haverford College on Friday night.

The Westtown School’s’s starters include no fewer than four Division I players, including 6-foot-11 sophomore center Mohamed Bamba, 6-8 senior forward Jonathan Kasibabu, and 6-foot-6 sophomore shooting guard Najja Hunter.

Germantown Friends, in a number of ways, couldn’t stack up.

“Their point guard’s bigger than our center,” GFS head coach Shawn Werdt said, and he wasn’t joking: Westtown’s Jair Bolden (6-3) does have an inch on Andrew Aldridge, the tallest Tiger starter at 6-2.

So it’s not much of a surprise that it was Westtown who was celebrating with its student section at the end of the night following its second consecutive FSL title in a 52-44 win.

But Werdt’s scrappy, undersized group of Division III-level recruits didn’t make it easy, and Westtown’s Seth Berger knew afterwards that were it not for the size advantage his Moose enjoyed, the score might have been the other way.

“I thought it was going to be a war, and it was,” he said. “At the end of the day, in most games, talent is going to win out...we were just more talented, and that was the difference in the game.”

Westtown took its biggest lead just after the half, when five quick points out of the break made it a 28-13 ballgame. But four different GFS players scored during a 11-2 run to respond that cut it down to 30-24 with 3:26 to play in the third, and it would be within 10 points from that point out.

Ultimately, the length of Bamba--who already has offers from Temple, Texas, Villanova and others--and teammates proved to be too much. Bamba had two big dunks early in the fourth quarter, and Kasibabu added six points later on to help the Moose stay in front.

Bolden finished with 15 points, though he scored all but one of those points in the first half. Bamba added 11 and at least seven blocks, while Kasibabu had eight.

“How are you going to practice against Bamba’s seven-foot wingspan?" Werdt asked. "I’ve got a JV kid simulating it in practice--it’s not the same.”

While the Westtown students celebrated with their team, the Germantown Friends alumni in attendance swarmed around Werdt with words of encouragement and support.

It’s been a special season for the Tigers in Werdt’s second year as head coach, with a 21-4 record (7-3 FSL) after going 10-12 (4-5) the year before. It was the school's first trip to the FSL title game since 1989.

"I’m proud of what that team has done all season long and the way that they play together and their grit and they just compete from start to finish," Werdt said. "And if you have a team like that at the high school level, they’re going to keep you in games, they just have no quit in them. I’m just upset the season’s coming to a close soon, I don’t want it to end, because these kids are so much fun to coach, they really are.”

Ray Leon, GFS' 5-11 shooting guard, had 16 points to pace the Tigers, while sophomore Michael Buckmire had 12 of his 14 in the second half and Aldridge found his way free for 10 points even amongst the trees.

None of them were hanging their heads afterwards.

"Westtown is not just any high school team, I think they can compete with anybody, and for us to compete with them, it was huge," Leon said. "I would have loved to win, but the outcome is the outcome, you can’t change it, you can’t go back. I’m grateful for being here, I would have never thought in a million years that my senior year I would end up in the championship at Germantown Friends. I had fun tonight, I can honestly say I had fun tonight.”

Both teams still have PAISAA first-round games to worry about, with GFS having an especially quick turnaround. Though the No. 9 seed Tigers were walking out of Haverford’s gym at close to midnight, they’d have to be right back on Lancaster Avenue scarcely 14 hours later for a 2 PM tipoff against No. 8The Haverford School on Saturday. Westtown, the No. 2 seed, has a game against SCH Academy on Monday with Friends' Central awaiting the winner.

Without much chance to scout the Fords, and with very little turnaround time, no one’s quite sure what to expect after such an emotional night. But if the Tigers can hang with the Moose, they can hang with anyone.

“I’m going to take myself a nice little bath tonight, get myself ready for tomorrow and then be right back at it tomorrow,” Leon said. “I don’t think we’re going to face another Westtown.”

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