West Goshen >> In the final seconds before Saturday’s tip-off of the Downingtown East-Kennett Ches-Mont League girls’ basketball semfinal, Cougar head coach Tom Schurtz could be heard preaching the importance of defense to his charges.
Downingtown East’s defense paid off in a 55-40 win that advanced the Cougars to the Ches-Mont championship final Tuesday against West Chester Rustin, the top seed in the American Division.
“I thought we were solid defensively today,” said Schurtz. “We are a decent offensive team, we are efficient with the ball; but we’re at our best when we’re playing good sound, fundamental defense. We like to create a tempo through our defense, and I thought the pace today mirrored the energy we need to have in a full court game.
“Kennett has a lot of good shooters, they’re a good three-point shooting team, so we wanted to arrive at the ball on defense, and we did a good job of not giving them open looks.”
Under the basket, the Blue Demons faced another challenge in D-East 6-foot-5 junior Bella Smuda, who blocked 11 shots and grabbed 15 rebounds. D-East’s strong defense allowed the Cougars to slowly build on its lead through most of the first half, and late in the second quarter, D-East had a 27-14 lead. Smuda scored 13 of those 27 points.
Kennett struck back with a quick 5-0 run just before halftime, on an Andrea Pestrianne field goal then a Gina Lusvardi trey just before the buzzer which cut the Cougars’ lead to 27-19.
D-East held a small 31-26 lead with 2:13 left in the third quarter, then went on a 10-0 run. Lauren Kent hit a couple of free throws, Smuda scored on back-to-back putbacks, then Sarah Geary nailed a couple of baskets to give the Cougars a 41-26 lead.
Kennett head coach Vince Cattano said, “Our plan was to make Bella work as hard as she could to score. but when you work that hard to prevent her from scoring, it frees up some of the other players, and it opened up some holes in the weak side. Downingtown East had a good game plan, and deserved to win today.”
“I was getting some great passes from my teammates,” noted Geary, who finished with 11 points.
Schurtz said, “Collectively, I think we had a number of players step up in different roles today. One of the things our team talks about is that, when your number is called, you have to be willing to embrace playoff basketball, be physical, play with energy, and just play your role to the best of your ability. Playoff basketball is tough, and after the game I told the girls that one thing you have to have in playoff basketball is a willingness to compete [at a high level]. I think today we showed collectively a willingness to compete.”
After Kennett cut D-East’s lead to 41-30, Geary scored inside, was fouled and made the free throw for a 44-30 lead. Kent converted back-to-back free throws; then after some tough Cougar defense, broke free for a layup and a 48-30 Cougar advantage.
Kent, who finished with 15 points, credited the Cougar’s tight defense.
“We were usually using a man-to-man defense today, so we could close out their good shooters,” said Kent. “We made sure we boxed out and talked to each other on every trip [upcourt].”
In the fourth quarter, Andrea Prestianne hit a trio of treys, and finished with 18 points. The Blue Demons converted seven three-point field goals Saturday.
Cattano said, “We put up a good fight, we could have hit a couple more shots at times to make it a little bit closer, but I’m proud of our kids. We’ll move forward and get ready for Districts.”
Downingtown East 55, Kennett 40
Kennett 5 14 7 14 – 40
Downingtown East 10 17 12 16 – 55
Kennett (40): LaCaosta 2 0-0 5, Lusvardi 2 0-0 5, Prestianne 7 1-2 18, Matthews 1 0-0 3, Ehrgood 0 0-0 0, Fowler 2 3-3 8, Dahms 0 0-0 0, Albert 0 0-0 0, Kosarn 0 0-0 0, Cicconi 0 0-0 0, Day 0 0-0 0, Ebaugh 0 1-2 1, Totals 14 5-7 40.
Downingtown East (55): Denning 0 2-2 2, Person 1 0-0 2, McFillin 0 0-0 0, Kent 5 5-9 15, Brennan 0 2-2 2, Wilson 0 0-0 0, Henken 0 0-0 0, Smuda 7 3-3 17, Meakim 2 2-4 6, Geary 5 1-1 11, Irwin 0 0-0 0, Totals 20 15-20 55.
Three-point field goals: Kennett – LaCosta, Lusvardi, Prestianne 3, Matthews, Fowler.
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