EAST NOTTINGHAM – Unionville boys basketball experienced it’s first-ever Ches-Mont Playoff appearance on Saturday. And the fact that the Indians’ dramatic 62-58 semifinal win in overtime over West Chester East punctuated the program’s first regular season crown in 30 years, well that kind of sheds some light on some weighty milestones.
“That was before I was born,” said Unionville head coach Chris Cowles.
There’s an old, faded 1989 banner from the long-defunct Southern Chester County League hanging in the Unionville gym as a reminder of how long it’s been since the Indians won anything. And with a share of the American Division crown already tucked away, the Indians doubled down to capture their first Ches-Mont Playoff triumph, and they did against a very dangerous opponent.
“Coach (Cowles) would say, ‘everybody look up at that banner — 1989. It has been that long,’” recalled Wyatt Hockenberry, who is one of four senior starters for Unionville. “It’s given us the motivation to do what we’ve done so far this season.”
Hockenberry scored seven points in the extra session to help propel the Indians (16-7 overall) into Tuesday’s Ches-Mont Championship Game to face a Coatesville squad they lost to in the regular season by six.
“We’ve been playing together since middle school,” said fellow senior Drew Lankaitis. “We’d go every single day in the 90 degree heat of the summer and play. The first time this group of seniors played together was fifth grade.
“So this means a lot to us.”
It was another classic between the Unionville and West Chester East, who also played into overtime during the regular season (the Vikings won that one). On Saturday at Oxford, the Indians blew a nine-point fourth quarter lead only to dominate the overtime.
“We’ve been in situations like this all season, and sometimes we’ve gotten down,” Cowles explained. “Life is short and we want to be as positive as possible.
“We kind of gave away the lead, but we kept battling. For us, it’s all about positivity and giving maximum effort. I thought our guys played almost as hard as they possibly could. So we can live with the result, not matter what.”
Hockenberry put Unionville ahead for good with a 3-pointer at the 1:50 mark of the OT, and then made it 57-53 with another long-range bomb with 49.4 seconds on the clock. The Indians then closed it out at the free throw line.
“We did all of the stuff we’ve been working on since summer workouts. That’s when it starts,” said Lenkaitis, who scored 15. “This is just kind of a byproduct of how hard we’ve worked over the last couple years, just for this moment.”
It was a bitter pill to swallow, but East (18-5 overall) will be a player in the upcoming District 1 5A Tournament. The Viking went into Saturday atop the district power rankings.
“We will be defined not by this loss, but how we bounce back,” said East head coach Tom Durant. “We have a home game in round one of the districts. So it’s back to the drawing board and we have to go back to work.”
The ending was rough for the Vikings, but the start wasn’t all that great either. The designated home team, East received a pregame technical foul for wearing its visiting uniforms. Unionville started the game with a pair of free throws plus the first possession.
“I heard (East) hasn’t been here since they started the (Ches-Mont) Final Four,” Durant said. “We just aren’t used to this. We didn’t read the fine print. We just assumed since we were the No. 2 seed (from the National Division) that we were the away team.”
Despite trailing 2-0 at the opening tipoff, the Vikings staged an 11-2 rally to end the first quarter and grab a 15-11 lead. But the Indians clamped down defensively, surrendering just one bucket in period number two and inched ahead 18-17 at the half.
In the third quarter alone, there were five ties. But Unionville got separation with a late push that included a pair of 3-pointers by both Hockenberry and Bo Furey-Bastian. In all, the Indians finished with a 15-6 flurry and took a 42-35 lead into the final period.
“My assistant, Matt Smith, told Wyatt at the half to shoot like he was 5-for-5 in the first half, and he did that,” Cowles said.
“At halftime, my teammates could tell I was upset about how I was shooting,” added Hockenberry, who scored 17 of his 19 points after the intermission. ‘They told me to keep shooting, and that gave me the confidence.”
Trailing 44-35 with five minutes remaining, West Chester East began a gutsy comeback. It started with 3-pointers by Tym Richardson and Brenden Merten, and ended with a pair of inside buckets by Andrew Carr, including the tying bucket with 6.3 left in regulation.
“I’m proud of our guys because of their resiliency,” Durant aid. “We were down nine at one point and got it into overtime. That was all through the effort of our guys. They don’t quit.”
A 6-foot-8 junior, Carr scored a game-high 20 points for the Vikings, and point guard Gibby Trowery chipped in 12. And because of the early technical, Durant was required by rule to stay seated the entire contest.
“It was tough not being able to stand up. It took me back to 1997 when I was at Penncrest and we had the seatbelt rule,” he said.
With some pretty impressive milestones already under its belt, Unionville will now go for the Ches-Mont’s biggest prize. Tip-off from Downingtown West is 7 p.m.
“Every game that we stay positive, and don’t complain or yell at each other, then good things will happen for us,’ Hockenberry said. “That’s the mindset we had the entire game.
“I’m proud of how we played and stuck in there.”
Unionville 62, West Chester East 58 (OT)
UNIONVILLE – Furey-Bastian 2 4-4 9; Ash 1 4-5 6; Shanahan 4 0-0 10; Hockenberry 6 3-4 19; Rafferty 0 3-4 3; Lenkaitis 6 2-3 15. Totals 19 16-21 62.
WEST CHESTER EAST – Trowery 5 0-0 12; Delaney 1 0-0 2; Kushner 4 0-0 8; Carr 7 4-6 20; Merten 2 0-0 6; Richardson 3 0-0 8; Anderson 1 0-0 2. Totals 23 4-6 58.
Unionville 15 2 24 6 14 — 62
W.C. East 11 7 19 13 10 — 58
Three-pointers: Furey-Bastian, Shanahan 2, Hockenberry 4, Lenkaitis, Trowery 2, Carr 2, Merten 2, Richardson 2.
EAST NOTTINGHAM >> Unionville has had plenty of leading men in big games this...
ASTON — Sun Valley’s four senior starters stood tall in the Vanguards’ 82-65 win over...
LEMOYNE >> The storybook comeback demands a storybook ending, right? Well, not always....
MIDDLETOWN — Critics could say that Penncrest cruised to a 67-36 win over Pottstown...
LOWER MORELAND TWP. — Shane Cohen admits he floats comfortably between two roles for Lower...
QUAKERTOWN >> Excitement, not exhaustion, was the bigger concern for Derian Bradford after the Faith...
MALVERN >> Jack Flanagan has never been happy to just make the playoffs. But...
ROYERSFORD >> Pope John Paul II head coach Brendan Stanton said when opponents view...
PHILADELPHIA >> It’s not a good idea to lose track of Jake Timby. It...
UPPER PROVIDENCE >> Five fingers, one fist. That’s become the unifying symbol for Spring-Ford...