Anthony Dabbundo (@AnthonyDabbundo)
After a disappointing end to last season -- his Raiders earned the No. 1 seed in districts and then failed to make states -- Coatesville head coach Chuck Moore had one simple message for his team.
“As good as we were last year, I thought we plateaued a little bit,” Moore said. “[This year] I told our guys to stay focused and make sure we improve every day heading into the playoffs.”
With just nine days until the Ches-Mont league playoffs get underway, the Red Raiders turned in their best defensive performance of the year, holding Downingtown East to just five made field goals in a dominant 49-29 win Thursday night.
This win, coupled with a Bishop Shanahan loss to Downingtown West, leaves Coatesville sitting all alone in first place in the Ches-Mont National Division. They are also ranked number two in the unofficial District 1 6A power rankings, released Monday.
For the second straight year, the Red Raiders find themselves well-positioned for a potential league title and a district and state playoff run.
This time, they want to make the most of their opportunities.
Last season, Coatesville took home the league title, but fell twice in district play, once to Central Bucks East, and eventually to Hatboro-Horsham in playbacks, cutting the 2015-16 season much shorter than most had anticipated.
“As good as we were last year, I thought we plateaued a little bit,” Moore said. “I told our guys to stay focused and make sure we improve every day heading into the playoffs.”
Right from the opening tip off, the Coatesville defense dominated the game. The Red Raiders forced 8 turnovers in the opening period, holding the Cougars to just two points. The Raiders’ swarmed the Cougars, deflecting every pass, contesting every shot, winning loose balls, and dominating the glass.
“Our defense has to set the tone for us to be successful,” Moore said.
Leading 10-2 after one, the turnovers continued to pile up for the Cougars, as they finished with 25 turnovers on the evening.
After two quarters, the Cougars looked like they had run out of ideas on how to break down the stifling Red Raider defense. The Cougars made just one basket in the first half, coupled with five free throws.
“One field goal in the first half is pretty incredible,” Moore said. “We hedged the screens hard, rotated on the traps, did everything well.”
“I’m extremely proud of them,” he continued.
The Coatesville offense was far from sharp, but it did not have to be Thursday.
Moore and the Raiders have plenty to work on at the offensive end from now until the district playoffs, but they certainly have enough talent offensively to point up points.
Tyrel Bladen, the team’s 6-6 center, scored 12 points, with eight of them coming in the first half. It was Bladen who caught a long lob pass from Jhamir Brickus, slamming it home for the Red Raiders’ second bucket of the game.
Usually, the crowd would be loving a slam dunk alley-oop on a pass from beyond the three point line. Yet the crowd stayed completely silent, as a part of a planned silent night in the Coatesville gym.
“Considering that it was a silent night no one was able to cheer, but it definitely helped us get the momentum,” Bladen said.
“I was kind of upset because no one could cheer for that alley-oop to Tyrel [Bladen], but the fans always make it special,” Moore said,
Brickus and fellow guard Hassan Young scored nine and eight points, whilst wreaking havoc on the opposing players defensively.
After a tough battle on the road back on January 10 that Coatesville won 45-36, the Red Raiders wrapped up this league battle by the midpoint of the third quarter. The lead ballooned all the way to 28 at 43-15 during the fourth quarter, before a late Cougars run.
“Last time we played them we were really sloppy and we needed to correct the mistakes like missed layups and turnovers.”
Coatesville still has problems to address, including the 15 turnovers they committed thursday, but for now, they enter the league playoffs as the favorite, and the district playoffs as one of the best teams District 1 has to offer in the state’s largest classification.
Now they just need to keep it going, and last year will be forgotten.
“We’re getting to the fun part of the season,” Moore said. “We’re coming down the homestretch, and we’re sitting pretty.”