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Henderson cranks up defense to thwart Downingtown West

DOWNINGTOWN >> Head coach Greta Neff may not be quite ready to concede that her West Chester Henderson basketball squad has done enough to make the upcoming 20-team District 1 6A Tournament field, but junior point guard Grace DePrisco is already looking ahead.

“We really wanted to win (Thursday) to hopefully move up and maybe get a first-round bye,” she said moments after the Warriors topped Downingtown West 36-26 in Ches-Mont National action at Wagner Gymnasium.

Now 7-4 in division action (9-6 overall), Henderson swept the season series with the Whippets. The team was 14th in the power rankings heading into the contest, and would need to be among the top dozen seeds in order to get that bye when the tournament starts on March 6.

“The numbers are so quickly skewed one way or the other with each win and loss because there have been so few games being played, so who knows?” Neff said. “But wins always help you.

“We did just enough tonight – we’ll take it.”

It was, admittedly, a struggle offensively. For instance, the Warriors managed just two buckets in the entire second half. But Henderson clamped down defensively right from the opening tipoff.

“We played very well on defense when our offense wasn’t working out for us. That will help get us talking and working together heading into districts,” DePrisco said.

“I thought our kids played some great team defense,” Neff agreed. “We are getting the point where we are making opponents take tougher shots. Everything is contested and rebounded the ball well for the most part.”

Postseason aspirations for Downingtown West, however, are looking rather dim. The squad falls to 5-5 overall and has now dropped five straight. The Whippets fall to 24th in the power rankings, and probably have to win out in their last two regular season outings, on Friday and Saturday against West Chester East.

“We are not playing with a lot of confidence right now,” West head coach Mike Young said.

“At this point, we can’t really worry about (districts). We just have to get back to playing well.”

And the start on Thursday only exasperated the situation as the Whippets failed to score a single point in the opening quarter. Young sat his entire starting unit for much of the second quarter, but the damage was done.

Henderson scored the game’s first 11 points, and it took West 11-plus minutes of action before notching its first field goal. It was 19-5 at the half, and Neff thought the margin could have been larger if not for her team’s offensive woes.

“I thought we had a lot of good looks in the first half and we just didn’t finish,” she said. “I give credit to (West’s) big girls because they made us rush some shots.

“If we made those baskets early, it would have changed the complexion of the game later on.”

The lead ballooned to 21 early in the second half, but soon after that the Whippets ripped off a 13-3 rally to pull within seven early in the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t score a point in the first quarter,” Young said. “But (the starters) came back in and did a better job after that. I thought we found decent combination in the second half and went with them.”

A steal and bucket by sophomore Lizzie Grant, and a couple free throws from Shayla Johnson helped West sliced the deficit to 29-24 with two minutes on the clock, and the Whippets had two possessions to cut it even more but turned the ball over both times.

In fact, West turned it over on four of its final five possessions, and that enabled the Warriors to close it out at the foul line. In the final 1:04, freshman guard Whitney Evans was 4-4 from the line and senior Molly Manion was 3-4.

“We like to have Whitney and Molly with the ball in their hands at the end, and we feel pretty confident with them shooting free throws,” Neff said.

“Under two minutes we really didn’t play with the same sense of urgency we played the rest of the second half with,” Young added. “We just needed for somebody to make a play and nobody wanted to do it.”

Evans led the way with 14 points and Manion chipped in nine for Henderson. The Warriors turned over 14 times in the second half, but made up for it by hitting 12-14 from the line.

“I think we got too comfortable just bringing the ball up nice and easy, so when (West) sprung the trap on us, they came at us hard,” Neff said. “I give West a lot of credit – they did a nice job coming back.”

Forward Cameron McNamara scored all of her nine points in the second half for the Whippets, and fellow sophomore Payton Forsyth added seven points. Afterwards, their coach was still puzzled about the lackluster start.

“We weren’t ready to play in the first half,” Yound said. “It is extremely frustrating.

“I was totally shocked we came out like that because you would think we’d come out ready to play in a big game like this.”

West Chester Henderson 36, Downingtown West 26

W.C. HENDERSON – DePrisco 2 0-0 5; Meredith 1 0-0 2; Manion 2 5-6 9; E. Shea 2 2-4 6; Evans 3 7-8 14. Totals 10 14-18 36.

DOWNINGTOWN WEST – Stauffer 0 1-2 1; Manning 0 0-1 1; Grant 1 0-2 2; Forsyth 3 1-2 7; McNamara 3 3-3 9; Johnson 1 4-4 6. Totals 8 9-15 26.

W.C. Henderson                             9 10 8 9 – 36

Downingtown West                       0 5 11 10 – 26

3-pointers: DePrisco, Evans.

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