DOWNINGTOWN >> The announcement came in the final minute of play, advising the capacity crowd to stay off the court at Wagner Gymnasium at the conclusion of Tuesday’s title game crowning the Ches-Mont boys’ basketball champion.
But after Dapree Bryant’s game-tying effort at the buzzer failed to drop for Coatesville, and Bishop Shanahan had dethroned the two-time league champions in dramatic and historic fashion, 60-58, the outnumbered security personnel at Downingtown West quickly faced a losing battle against the Eagles’ delirious student section.
Holding back a rising tide can be a futile endeavor. The students, along with a bunch of other fans, spilled out over the floor like a Tsunami. And in a completely unscripted moment, the entire Bishop Shanahan team sprinted over to greet the onslaught. A love-fest between players and spectators commenced.
“That was just an instinct thing. We ran over to them in order to celebrate together,” said senior Kevin Dodds.
“Last year we weren’t able to do that. This time we wanted it — badly.”
For the first time ever, Bishop Shanahan sits atop the heap of the Ches-Mont in boys’ hoops. And it was only fitting that in order to wrestle away the crown, it would have to be against a Coatesville program that has been the standard bearer for decades.
“We’ve worked so hard for this,” said another senior, David Angelo. “It’s been a long-time coming.”
It may not rank as the biggest moment in Shanahan boys’ basketball history. That has to go to the 1985 squad that captured the Class AA state championship. But that happened 33 long years ago.
“This is my 10th season and we’ve been working since that day to get the respect of the teams in our league and win the Ches-Mont,” said head coach Ken Doyle. “We were close last year but this senior group has been incredible and we finally got it.
“We still feel like we are still climbing the ladder even though we’ve had some success. We kept telling the kids, ‘we haven’t won anything.’ We can’t say that anymore, but we are still hungry for more.”
Now 19-4, the Eagles will head into the District 1 tournament as one of the top seeds, and there is some unfinished business on that front. But on Tuesday, Shanahan hung on and pulled it out through sheer determination.
“We knew it was going to be all 32 minutes and every second along the way,” Doyle said. “So when we had a one point lead heading into the fourth quarter, we knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to finish it off.
“But with this group, no challenge is insurmountable. We just believe we would get ourselves together and straighten things out.”
That’s because there were several moments when things weren’t trending Shanahan’s way. Like when Coatesville turned up the defensive pressure and sliced a nine-point fourth quarter deficit to one in the final minute.
It was similar to the furious comeback the Red Raiders staged a year ago to get the final into overtime, where they would go on to win it. But this time, the Eagles gritted their teeth and kept battling. For instance, the Eagles downed 10 of 12 pressure-cooker free throws in the final period.
“This is a tough group. We have a bunch of dogs and we don’t shy away from anything,” Angelo said.
“Being able to push through adversity – that’s the reason we won this game,” added Dodds. “During the timeouts, we collected ourselves and got back at it.”
Shanahan has found a way to flourish as a 5A school in a 6A world by being as tough mentally as it is physically. And by leaning on a trio of seniors – Angelo, Dodds and Tom Ford – who were pegged as special when they showed up as freshmen back in 2014.
“These seniors have been together for four years and we’ve been gearing ourselves to get to this point,” Doyle acknowledged. “Falling a little short last year kind of put a little fire under us.”
Not surprisingly, Angelo, Dodds and Ford combined to score 40 points on the biggest stage of their high school careers, so far. They also got a lot of help from another senior, Dan DeBeneditto, who does a lot of the dirty work. And don’t forget junior Joe O’Malley, who shared scoring honors with Dodds (14 points each), or underclassman Phil Chenard, who buried a couple huge 3-pointers down the stretch.
“We fought our way back and just kept believing,” Ford said. “It was a team effort.
“We grinded it out. We knew if we put our minds to it, we could get it done.”
According to Doyle, he had an inkling that the Angelo-Dodds-Ford threesome was going to pay some dividends back when they all found a way to make the varsity squad as freshmen.
“When they came in as freshmen, we were hoping for some big things before they left,” he said.
“We kind of knew we were a special class,” added Angelo, who is generously listed at 5-foot-10. “All that experience really helped.”
It is shaping up as one of the most memorable seasons in program history, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing. In January, Dodds missed several games with the flu and then as soon as he returned, O’Malley was sidelined with an injury.
“It’s not lost on me that we are one rolled-ankle away from being on the losing end here,” Doyle acknowledged.
But once February rolled around, the Eagles started to get healthy. And they were ready for a championship run.
“We always believed we could do it, but you never know where the bumps in the road are going to come from,” Doyle said. “The kids were resilient all season and stayed focused on the end-goal.”
The goal, of course, was to break the Ches-Mont jinx. And now that that’s accomplished, the idea is to take the momentum into district action and make a run there.
But Tuesday was for celebrating. And the team did plenty of that along with a throng of fellow students, who certainly did their part on Tuesday.
“I’m just glad we were able to win for them,” Angelo said.
“We just wanted to show all of our love for our fans for all they’ve done for us,” Ford added.