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Downingtown East keeps its eyes on the prize in win over West Chester Henderson

WEST CHESTER >> Following Downingtown East’s 51-44 win at West Chester Henderson Thursday evening, Cougar head coach Tom Schurtz spoke of his veteran squad’s ability to focus.

“What I’m so proud of with this group is their willingness to play each trip [upcourt] as aggressively as they can, trusting each other and finding each other out there, which is a testament to their unity as a team,” said Schurtz. “They’ve consistently played each trip for each trip – a lot of teams struggle with that, they kind of get lost in the ebb and flow of the game.”

The Cougars (5-1) feature a trio of third-year starters (senior Caroline Brennan, senior Mary McFillin and junior guard Lauren Kent) and a second-year starter in junior guard Cassidy Denning. The veteran quartet combined for 45 of D-East’s 51 points Thursday.

Henderson (4-5) held an 8-7 lead at the end of the first quarter; then a three-pointer from the right corner by Denning (who scored 12 points in the first half, including a trio of treys) put the visitors ahead to stay.

The Warriors hung tough for the rest of the game, however, never falling behind by more than 10 points. In the second quarter, West Chester Henderson freshman Whitney Evans, the younger sister of former Henderson star hoopster Shante Evans, scored eight points en route to 24 points for the game.

“Whitney did a really nice job on both ends of the court tonight,” said West Chester Henderson head coach Greta Neff. “She got to the basket; I thought she played some good defense sliding her feet and her hands. She had some smart situational stuff – she recognized who was guarding her, she went to the basket hard, she knocked down some free throws; I thought she had a really nice night tonight.”

Schurtz said, “Henderson did a great job of attacking us; Evans got hot and had a really nice game today. We had a lot of different people covering her. That’s a testament to Henderson; they’ve very tough at home. Henderson is a physical team, we knew it was going to be a tough game today, and it was.”

In the final minute of the first half, Evans converted 4-of-4 free throws, and a strong drive through heavy traffic by Warrior junior Grace DePrisco cut the visitors’ lead to 26-22.

“I thought our guards [Evans and DePrisco] really played hard tonight and got after it,” said Neff.

Just before halftime, Brennan, who had eight second-quarter points, scored from inside to give the Cougars a little breathing room and a 28-22 halftime lead.

In the third quarter, Kent penetrated inside for some key scoring. Late in the third period, Henderson cut the D-East lead to 34-30, but with 1:13 to play in the third quarter, Kent drove for a layup and was fouled, converting the free throw for a three-point play that gave the visitors a 37-30 lead. The Cougars held the Warriors scoreless for the rest of the quarter.

Schurtz said, “We have a lot of different defenses, and today we had some success with a man-to-man defense [early], but Henderson was able to come back against it; then we tried a couple of other defenses. But I think it was a trust and faith in what we’re trying to accomplish on both ends of the floor [that won it for us].”

Early in the fourth quarter, Evans (who scored eight points in the final period) drove in for a layup to cut the Cougars’ lead to 37-32, but then McFillin took over the D-East scoring for a while, driving in for a layup of her own, then following a missed Henderson shot from the outside, drawing a foul and converting both ends to give the Cougars a 41-32 lead with 5:41 to play.

A couple of putbacks by D-East sophomore Lacy Ford gave the visitors a 47-38 lead with two minutes left; then shortly thereafter McFillin and Kent combined to go 4-for-4 from the free throw line for the Cougars’ final points in wrapping up the win.

“Give credit to Downingtown East – they are a seasoned machine; those girls know exactly what to do and when to do it; they work hard and get after it,” said Neff. “They do a good job on the offensive end of making the other team work really hard.”

A week ago, Schurtz reflected on his squad’s advantage of veteran know-how: “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]. We talk a lot about finding each other out there, and this group will find each other out there.”

For West Chester Henderson, Evans’ 24 points led the way, followed by eight points for senior Molly Manion.

“We just have to move our feet a little bit better, we’ve got to close out a little bit better,” said Neff. “We had a lot of open shots today; we just have to knock more of them down. We [also] need to box out and rebound better.”

Downingtown East 51, West Chester Henderson 44

DOWNINGTOWN EAST (51): Frain 0 0-0 0, Denning 5 1-4 14, McFillin 2 4-4 9, Kent 3 5-7 11, Brennan 2 6-10 11, Ford 2 0-0 4, A. Smuda 0 2-4 2, Totals 14 18-29 51.

WEST CHESTER HENDERSON (44): J. Shea 1 0-0 2, DePrisco 2 0-0 4, Evans 7 9-10 24, Forcine 1 0-0 2, Halladay 0 0-0 0, Meredith 0 0-0 0, Manion 4 0-0 8, E. Shea 1 2-2 4, Totals 16 11-12 44.

Downingtown East 7 21 9 14 – 51

West Chester Henderson 8 14 8 14 – 44

Three-point field goals: Denning 3, McFillin, Brennan, DePrisco.

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