ROYERSFORD >> Wayne Anderson threw his arms up in celebration in the direction of the Downingtown West cheerleaders as the clock ticked down under 10 seconds.
Three months ago, the Whippets left Ram Gymnasium after a double-digit loss left them mired in a 1-3 start under first-year head coach Stuart Ross.
Tuesday night, however, they left much, much differently.
They left as state playoff entrants.
George Gordon led the way with a game-high 24 points while Greg Barton posted a double-double as Downingtown West secured a state playoff bid with a 70-64 victory over Spring-Ford in the District 1 Class 6A 9/10 playback round.
“It just feels amazing,” Gordon, a senior said. “Going to states, I’ve only been there one time before. Credit to the coaching staff for just hanging with us the whole season.
“We had a rough start to the season and I think a lot of guys were inexperienced from last year. I think Spring-Ford was our third or fourth game this year, so we were a young team. Even though we had some losses and some rollercoaster up-and-down moments this season, I really feel like our coaches really pulled us through. Our teammates really bought into everything and (tonight), we came out with a win.”
Gordon, a 6-7 forward who plans on going to Ursinus College, was a force on the boards and in the paint. His touch around the rim was evident in the second and third quarters as he finished off tough baskets with an array of post moves. His play was vital in the fourth as he sealed the Whippets’ victory with six straight points to close it out.
Barton, a 6-5 junior forward, finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds in the win. His tenacity on the glass filtered through the rest of the Whippet lineup as they outrebounded the Rams 37-20 in the win.
The state playoff berth is the second for West in the past three seasons and supplants the memory of last year’s loss to Academy Park in the district playback round. The Whippets, winners of five of their last six games, will travel to Lower Merion Friday night to determine the No. 9 seed.
“Last year we lost to Academy Park in a heartbreaker,” Gordon said. “We knew Spring-Ford was a great team so we had to come out and compete.”
“It was obviously going to be a transition going from the old coaching staff to the new coaching staff, new style of play, building the trust between the players and the coaches.” Ross said. “As a coaching staff, we always want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season. Right now, we seem to be going in that direction.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick led Spring-Ford with 22 points in his last game of his high school career with juniors Nestor Diaz and Austin Hokanson each adding 13.
Fitzpatrick and Diaz sparked the Rams late as the Rams overcome a listless first half with a spirited second-half comeback. Coming out with a full-court press to start the third, the Rams were able to force 13 turnovers in the second half as they chipped away a double-digit third quarter deficit. Fitzpatrick scored 18 of his team-high total in the second half, his 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter giving the Rams their first lead since late in the first while Diaz came up huge later in the quarter, nailing a 3-pointer from the kick out of Hokanson to make it 59-58.
“Just our energy in general (was better),” Spring-Ford head coach Chris Talley said. “I feel like in that first half there was no sense of urgency.”
West, however, took control.
Free throws from Barton gave West a 60-59 lead before a pull-up jumper from Davis Reardon (13 points, seven rebounds) extended the lead to 64-59. Following a Fitzpatrick 3-pointer from the top of the key, Gordon was fouled after trying to go up for a layup after collecting a no-look pass from Will Howard. His free throws, followed by his finish on the fast break made it 68-62. He then sealed it with 4.8 seconds remaining, his last two free throws prompting celebration along the Whippet sideline.
“Everyone has bought in,” Gordon said. “That’s definitely on our coaching staff. We lost to East, we lost to Coatesville. Those losses affected our seeding for the Ches-Mont finals, which we didn’t make. But we’re right where we want to be. That’s all on my teammates.”
Spring-Ford sends off seniors Chucky Drummond (five points), Eric Page, Fitzpatrick, Chandler Salutric, Adam Geremski and Nick Heller — all of whom received high praise from Talley after the game.
“The senior class had a successful two years,” Talley said. “I think they snuck up on some teams (this year) and I’m just proud that they kept the winning tradition going. I think our younger guys see that, they like it, and I think they’ll use it as motivation going into the offseason.”
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