Warfel shines as Downingtown East survives, advances to semifinals

FLOURTOWN — The sweat was pouring from Paige Warfel’s face in the final minutes of the fourth quarter at a hot Mount St. Joseph’s gym Monday night.

Warfel, like the rest of her Downingtown East teammates, were fatigued during the homestretch, including when the Mount cut a once 19-point lead down to two with 1:21 to play.

Despite Mount St. Joseph’s getting set to complete a frantic comeback, nothing was going to stop Warfel from helping the Cougars advance to the semifinals of the district playoffs.

“We were tired,’ Warfel said. “But we knew they were tired too. I don’t really know what happened over the last two quarters, but we had to finish strong. We had to outplay them.’

Thanks to a brilliant fourth quarter by Warfel, No. 11 Downingtown East managed to outplay the Mount, despite all the momentum on the home team’s side.

Warfel scored a game-high 25 points, including 10 of 12 East points in the fourth quarter, as the Cougars defeated No. 3 Mount St. Joseph’s 52-47 in a District 1 Class AAAA quarterfinal matchup.

Downingtown East (21-6) advanced to play No. 2 Central Bucks West, a 55-40 winner over No. 7 Upper Dublin, in the district semifinals Wednesday, 6 p.m. at Council Rock South High School.

Mount St. Joseph’s (22-3) fall to the playback bracket for fifth place, where they will host Upper Dublin Wednesday.

The Mount gave East all it could handle from 3:20 mark in the second quarter on, outscoring the Cougars 37-20 to make it 47-45 with 1:21 left.

The Cougars, who never trailed in the game, bent but did not break.

“They come after you very aggressively,’ said Downingtown East head coach Bob Schnure. “They’re the champs of their league. You don’t expect us to double our lead and win by 30. They came after us and we hung in there thanks to free throws. In a game like this, you got to make them and the girls did.’

East finished 17-of-20 from the free throw line in the game, including 8-for-9 in the fourth quarter.

That was damage control during the furious Mount St. Joe’s rally.

“We knew we could make our free throws,’ said East’s Kaelyn Johns, who finished with 10 points. “They were close to going in the 1-and-1 and we did have the lead. It basically was for us, make free throws and don’t turn the ball over. We were going to win the game if we did that.’

Besides free throw conversion in the fourth, Warfel played her best quarter of basketball this season…and perhaps her career.

After Mount went on a 7-0 run to make it 40-34 with 4:52 left, Warfel took over. Coming out of a timeout, Warfel received a pass in the corner and drove the baseline to put East up 42-34.

The Mount responded with a 5-0 run of its own. On the ensuing East possession, Warfel took the ball and drove down the court for the layup and the foul. Warfel hit the free throw to put the Cougars up 45-39 with 2:37 left.

“With (Mount) playing everyone tight, that opened up some opportunities for Paige to get to the basket,’ Schnure said. “That’s what she does pletty well.’

“Paige was awesome,’ Johns said. “We needed her big time and she come out to play tonight. She killed it.’

East couldn’t breathe despite having a six-point lead. Sarah Wills capped four answered points with a jumper to put Mount within two, 45-43, with 1:21 left. The deficit was the shortest Mount faced all night.

The Cougars never gave them the opportunity to tie until the final possession, thanks to converting 5-of-6 free throws to make it 50-47 with 17.2 left.

Using Schnure’s strategy, East fouled Libby Tacka after Mount missed a contested 3-pointer in the final seconds. Tacka missed the front end of the 1-and-1 as Warfel grabbed the rebound and hit both free throws to seal the win for the Cougars.

East used an excellent first 12 minutes of the game to control the outcome as the Cougars opened with a 27-8 lead midway through the second quarter.

Despite being outscored 39-25 the rest of the way, East found a way to win in one of the toughest places to play in the district. Mount was 11-0 in Flourtown before the Cougars handed them their first home loss of the season.

Next up, a trip to the Ditrict 1 Class AAAA Final Four. The Cougars are the only double-digit seed left in the district tournament. They’re playing with nothing to lose.

“I never would have thought we’d make it this far,’ Johns said. “We started to grow as a team midway through the season and you can tell on the court. Being a close team has helped us win these tough games.’

“We’re playing better than we have…ever,’ Warfel said. “Everyone has been stepping up every single game. I think we have a shot at winning this. We got through the hard games. Now it’s just getting the wins.’

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