WEST GOSHEN >> Maggie O’Hare wasn’t having her the kind of scoring game she’s accustomed to.
The shots were there, but weren’t falling. But, when her West Chester Rustin teammates needed her most, O’Hare came up with the biggest shot of the evening.
O’Hare’s 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter gave the Golden Knights the lead for good en route to a 40-34 victory Saturday night, thwarting a valiant Downingtown East comeback in the nightcap at the Ches-Mont League Girls Basketball Final Four at West Chester East’s Jack Byrne Gynasium.
“She’s done it all year,” said Rustin coach Jim Powers. “She’s had some games where it didn’t go for her, but in the fourth quarter, she has hit the big shots. I’m not surprised.”
After surviving one challenge, a bigger mountain remains in the form of unbeaten West Chester Henderson, waiting in Tuesday’s final at West Chester East at 7 p.m.
“That’s going to be another tough one,” added Powers. “We went to overtime with them early in the season, and Greta (Neff) does a heck of a job. She has a heck of a team. We’re going to have to play better than we did tonight to be able to beat them.”
The Cougars (16-7) took their first lead since early in the first quarter when Bella Smuda hit two free throws at the start of the fourth for a 32-30 advantage. Erin Gallagher came back a minute later with a three for a 33-32 lead with 5:46 left.
Smuda notched two more free throws with 5:15 left to regain the lead, but those would prove to be the final points East will score in the fourth.
Rustin (19-3) would get back in front as O’Hare curled off a screen and buried a three from the right side to put the Golden Knights ahead for good, 36-34, with 3:25 left. While O’Hare may have struggled offensively, she did not let it bother her on the defensive end, coming up with a key steal with a little over a minute left to seal the Knights’ spot in the final.
“Dakiya (Daniels) gave a real good screen, and I knew I can pop out and just let it go,” said O’Hare. “Everyone has to fall back on defense because you can’t play 1-on-5.”
“She’s a great player,” said East coach Tom Schurtz. “They have a lot of guards who make shots from the outside. We knew that going in. I thought we did a nice job pressing them off the arc.
“In basketball, there comes a moment when you have to make a big shot. They made a big shot and we didn’t.”
Leading 23-18 at halftime, the Golden Knights jumped out on a 6-0 run as Gallagher notched two baskets along with one from Julia Magrone. Rustin seemed to take a stranglehold of the game, building a 29-18 lead.
But, the Cougars fought back as they ended the final four minutes of the quarter with a 12-1 spurt to tie the game at 30-30 after three.
Early in the contest, East came out a little tentative, making two of 11 field goals, and piled up seven turnovers. However, in the third, it was Rustin not being able to score as the mistakes started to pile up.
“That happened to us in the second quarter, we got up early, then had a drought of a couple of minutes,” saiud Powers. “The same thing happened to us in the third. He (Schurtz) slowed us down. He made a couple of adjustments and we didn’t adjust back quick enough. But, we were able to refocused.”
For East, Erin Phelan led the way with 11 points and Smuda added nine points and Olivia Williams eight. Gallagher poured in a game-high 16 points for the Golden Knights, with Grace Palona chipping in 12.
Now, Rustin looks for the title against its crosstown rival in what should be another memorable matchup.
“We’re ready,” said O’Hare. We’re pumped. We’re so excited to play them.”
West Chester Rustin 40, Downingtown East 34
Downingtown East: Smuda 2 5-8 9, Phelan 3 5-6 11, Tyrell 1 0-0 3, Williams 3 0-0 8, Brennan 0 0-0 0, Campbell 0 0-0 0, Crum 1 0-0 3. Totals: 9 10-14 34.
West Chester Rustin: Palona 4 3-4 12, Gallagher 6 2-4 16, Magrone 2 2-3 7, Daniels 0 0-3 0, O’Hare 2 0-0 5, Gatto 0 0-0 0, Inforzato 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 7-14 40.
Downingtown East 8 10 12 4 – 34
W.C. Rustin 15 8 7 12 – 40
3-point goals: Williams 2, Tyrell, Crum, Gallagher 2, Palona, O’Hare, Magrone.
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