WEST GOSHEN >> Just one day after Downingtown East suffered its first loss of the season Wednesday against undefeated Bishop Shanahan, the Cougars rebounded Thursday for a 50-39 win against a strong West Chester East squad.
“It was tough tonight, playing back-to-back days against two quality opponents, and I was nervous coming here tonight,” said Downingtown East head coach Tom Schurtz. “But our girls were loose, they were excited and they responded. I think it’s the resiliency of our team, and our willingness to come back and trust in who we are and the style of play that we’re trying to create.”
The Cougars (4-1) played the Vikings to a 13-13 tie through the first quarter, then gradually pulled away for the victory. D-East seniors Mary McFillin (19 points, five treys) and Caroline Brennan combined for 34 points Thursday.
In the second quarter, D-East’s defense held the host Vikings (3-3) to just six points.
“We pride ourselves on our defense, and we run multiple defenses,” said Schurtz. “I give West Chester East a lot of credit – they were able to break our press early, two different presses that we like to run, and what was great [for us] was that we kept searching for something defensively until it finally worked, until we found a matchup we liked.
“Today it took a little time [for us] to find a defense we were comfortable with, but in the end, our players’ trust in each other was what really mattered.”
The Cougars are a veteran ballclub, with a trio of third-year starters (Brennan, McFillin and junior guard Lauren Kent) and a second-year starter in junior guard Cassidy Denning.
“I think our experience helps us in that our players have seen so many different styles of games, that they can keep trying different things [to win],” said Schurtz. “We talk a lot about finding each other out there, and this group will find each other out there.
“Experience makes you calm in big situations, and they weren’t rattled out there tonight – and this was a big game. East is on the come, they’ve been playing great, they’re a senior-heavy team, and we knew we had to come in and battle tonight. I was proud of our girls, proud of our effort tonight, and I’m glad that we now get a couple of days off because our girls are tired (laughs).”
Downingtown East went ahead for good late in the second quarter when a Brennan drive gave them a 20-19 lead. Following a Viking missed shot, McFillin nailed a trey from the right side to give the visitors a 23-19 lead the Cougars took into halftime.
The visitors upped their lead to 36-25 late in the third quarter, with the help of a couple of treys from McFillin, and a couple of easy layups.
“I thought we moved the ball well tonight,” said Schurtz. “We like to get multiple players involved, we had timely scoring, and we had a couple of times where we found an open player for an easy layup when we really needed a bucket.
“I think the hallmark of this team is unselfish team basketball on the defensive end, willing to play hard all the time, and on the offensive end to trust whoever is out on the floor with them.”
West Chester East battled back early in the fourth quarter and cut the Cougars’ lead to 38-33 on a couple of field goals from senior captain Megan Merten (nine points) and sophomore Mikayla Kushner (eight points).
The Vikings also were getting some accurate free throw shooting from senior captain Lauren Klieber (4-for-4 in the third quarter), who finished with a team-high 12 points.
McFillin then hit a couple more treys, and the Vikings had trouble connecting on their shots, despite having second and sometimes third chances at the basket, and the Cougars moved out to a 44-33 lead. A Brennan drive gave the visitors a 46-33 advantage.
Merten and Klieber both hit treys in the final minute of play, but the Cougars prevailed for the 50-39 win.
West Chester East head coach Erin Listrani said, “I was very proud of our team’s effort and execution tonight. Downingtown East has some physically strong and experienced guards, and their team can really get rolling. They came up with some timely baskets that broke any momentum that we were trying to build.
“I thought our shot selection was good, and we were patient on offense, we shared the ball and handled [D-East’s] defensive pressure well – our shots just didn’t fall.”
NOTES >> Klieber, who scored 12 points Thursday night, needs only four more points to reach the 1,000 career point milestone. She’ll attempt to reach this milestone at the Vikings’ next scheduled game, at Unionville on Feb. 6.
Downingtown East 50, West Chester East 39
DOWNINGTOWN EAST (50): Denning 1 1-3 3, McFillin 6 2-2 19, Kent 3 1-4 7, Brennan 6 3-4 15, Ford 0 0-0 0, A. Smuda 2 2-2 6, Totals 18 9-15 50.
WEST CHESTER EAST (39): M.G. Kerns 0 3-4 3, Kushner 4 0-0 8, Klieber 3 5-6 12, McDonald 3 0-0 7, Merten 4 0-0 9, K. Douglass 0 0-0 0, Totals 14 8-10 39.
Downingtown East 13 10 13 14 – 50
West Chester East 13 6 10 10 – 39
Three-point goals: McFillin 5, Klieber, McDonald, Merten.