DOWNINGTOWN >> First the qualifier: it is early in the COVID-shortened high school basketball season. But that shouldn’t diminish from the fact that right now the Bishop Shanahan girls sit atop the Ches-Mont National basketball standings.
The upstart Eagles reached that perch the hard way, with impressive back-to-back wins over preseason favorites West Chester East and Downingtown East during a five-day stretch sandwiched around a snowstorm. Wednesday’s 64-59 masterpiece knocked the visiting Cougars from the ranks of the unbeaten. Downingtown East is the defending Ches-Mont league champions.
“It’s now about confidence – believing that we belong and that we can play at this level,” said Shanahan head coach Jim Powers. “Those are two good wins but we have to just keep building.”
Now 3-0 in the division (4-0 overall), the Eagles established a lead with an early barrage of 3-pointers, and then managed to fight back every time Downingtown East tried to stage a comeback. In all, Shanahan buried a dozen shots from beyond the arc from five different players.
“Sometimes teams get hot,” said Cougars’ head coach Tom Schurtz. “I thought we closed out (on defense) well, but give (Shanahan) a lot of credit for timely shooting. They didn’t just shoot well, they hit big shots when they needed them. That’s a credit to their resolve.”
East (3-1) forced 18 turnovers, but by the second half Shanahan was beating the three-quarter court pressure and turning it into transition opportunities. And the Eagles got a big lift from the bench, outscoring the Cougars reserves 26-0.
“We like to get everyone involved,” said first-year starter Caroline Sendi. “This was our best game so far but we have some big ones coming up.”
Shanahan plays Coatesville Thursday, West Chester Henderson Saturday and West Chester Rustin on Monday. So right now, Powers is a bit reluctant to say that his team has arrived.
“I thought the shots would start falling if the girls keep working, and they’ve been working,” he said. “Hopefully it will stay like that, but who knows? We could go ice cold (Thursday) against Coatesville.”
Twice in the second half Downingtown East pulled to within a bucket and appeared to have the momentum. But each time the Eagles would respond forcefully.
In the third quarter, southpaw Jacey Petruno sparked an 8-0 rally with one of her five 3-pointers on the day, turning a 40-38 score into a double-digit Shanahan lead. Sophomores Alyssa Brown and Caydence Oswald came off the bench to knock down huge 3-pointers early in the final period, and then freshman forward Sammy Blumenthal helped close it out with free throws.
Clinging to a 59-56 lead, Blumenthal went 4-for-4 from the line to up the margin to seven with 1:03 to go. She finished with nine points off the bench; Brown added 10 points and Oswald chipped in five.
“They are good players,” Powers said. “When we talked about our season, the question was how our young players were going to do, and how were they going to play in a game like this against a talented opponent. For the most part, they held their own, they didn’t panic and knocked down some shots.
“Those foul shots by Sammy at the end were big. (Downingtown) East made runs and we were able to somehow get a bucket or two to keep them at arms-length.”
Petruno led the way with 15 points and Sendi added 14 points, and the duo did a lot of the damage in the first half by hitting seven 3-pointers combined.
“Our perimeter shooting is starting to come around, but we have to keep it going,” Sendi said.
“We have some good shooters. Jacey (Petruno) had four threes in the first quarter and that kind of kept us going.”
In the first half alone, the Eagles connected on seven of their first eight from long distance, and never really cooled off to take a 30-32 lead into the intermission.
“(Shanahan is) a good shooting team, but they were 9-for-11 on threes in the first half,” Schurtz said. “That is a ridiculous number.”
Senior guard Caroline Brennan scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half for the Cougars and would up sharing scoring honors with teammate Lauren Kent. Mary McFillin finished with 11 points for East.
“We never got over the hump,” Schurtz said. “They made enough shots at key moments to keep us at arms-length. In a game where you are trailing, there has to be a moment where you pull even, and they made sure to keep us just slightly out of reach the entire game.
“Tonight wasn’t about our style of play. It was that Shanahan played a great game, we played good, and it was enough to beat us.”
Powers added: “This was big for the girl’s confidence. Downingtown East plays hard and is good. So to come out and beat them, that’s big.”
Bishop Shanahan 64, Downingtown East 59
DOWNINGTOWN EAST — Denning 3 0-0 8; McFillin 4 0-2 11; Brennan 4 8-9 17; Kent 6 4-5 17; Ford 2 1-2 5. Totals 19 13-18 59.
BISHOP SHANAHAN – Petruno 5 0-0 15; Wankmiller 1 0-0 3; Oswald 2 0-2 5; Brown 3 2-3 10; Sendi 5 1-2 14; Rudolph 1 0-0 2; Donahue 3 0-0 6; S. Blumenthal 2 5-6 9. Totals 22 8-15 64.
Downingtown East 18 14 11 16 – 59
Bishop Shanahan 23 17 11 13 – 64
3-pointers: Denning 2, McFillin 3, Brennan, Kent, Petruno 5, Wankmiller, Oswald, Brown 2, Sendi 3.V