WORCESTER >> Piloted through turbulence by a determined Connor Fleet, West Chester Henderson played with a rattle-proof confidence Friday night and earned the program its first state berth since 2007.
The Henderson Warriors began to pull away in the third quarter against Methacton and built an 18-point lead by the fourth. Henderson saw Methacton come all the way to tie it late, but Fleet’s three-point play pushed the visitors into the lead for good in a thrilling 79-73 victory in District 1-6A Playbacks.
Fleet drove hard to the hoop, breaking the tie with a hard-earned two with 45 seconds to play. He then sank the ensuing free throw to make it 76-73 Henderson. Fleet made another free throw with 18 ticks left to provide the visitors a four-point lead, then added a defensive board and two clinching free throws with three seconds to go.
Henderson’s versatile junior guard finished 14-of-15 from the free-throw line and scored a game-high 32 points.
“He’s the hardest-working player in my 19 years of coaching,” Henderson coach Jason Ritter said. “He is literally the hardest-working kid I’ve ever had. And it showed tonight. For Connor to shine in that moment, he deserves it.”
No. 17 Henderson is assured a spot in states, and will be at home on Tuesday against either Abington or Haverford in playbacks. A tremendous season came to a close for No. 9 Methacton.
“I knew it was gonna be a tight one. I told our guys that I was really proud of their fight at the end,” Methacton coach Pat Lockard said.
Henderson got hot in the third quarter, threes by Nyle Ralph Beyer, Jesse Smith and Fleet helping to turn a 34-30 halftime edge into a more commanding 55-39 lead entering the fourth.
A layup by Kmari Smith widened the gap to 57-39 in the opening moments of the final frame.
“It’s funny because we had one point in the third quarter against Spring-Ford (in the second round), and tonight we went crazy in the third quarter,” said Fleet.
Down by 18 in the fourth, Methacton came roaring back.
The Methacton Warriors found their shooting touch, nailing seven 3-pointers – including three by Matt Christian (20 points) – to draw even at 73. Christian hit a three with 1:30 left then sank another to tie it up moments later, bringing the home crowd to its feet.
Cam Chilson (21 points), Sal Iemmello (16 points) and Alex Hermann (13 points) also helped fuel the Methacton comeback.
But Henderson did not waver.
“Pat does a great job with Methacton. And this is a program that is used to winning, used to going to states,” said Ritter. “So I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Methacton shot the heck out of the ball.
“But in crunch time, our players made the correct plays. And it really came down to: we made one or two more shots than they did. In the third quarter, we knew we had to come out aggressive, and that turned the tide in our favor.”
Fleet’s basket in the final minute and ensuing free throws transformed Henderson into happy travelers.
“That bus ride home’s gonna be a lot of fun,” said Ritter, who has guided Henderson to states in his first season at the helm (the program hadn’t been there since ’07 and then 1977 before that). “(States) is a long time coming. For the kids, I’m happy for them.”
Said Fleet: “It’s good for the whole Henderson program and it’s good for the school too.”
Meanwhile Methacton’s fight never diminished.
“They didn’t give up,” Lockard said. “That last five minutes was the effort we needed over the duration of the game. We had that urgency, but we waited until the end to play like that. And you can’t do that against a team as good as West Chester Henderson.
“I told the guys I’m proud to coach them. You feel terrible for the seniors that this is the way they gotta go out, but the team showed we’re not gonna give up.”
West Chester Henderson 79, Methacton 73
Henderson 19 15 21 24 – 79
Methacton 19 11 9 34 – 73
Henderson: 2 Nyle Ralph-Beyer 6 0-0 16, 4 Kmari Smith 4 1-2 9, 5 Connor Fleet 8 14-15 32, 15 Jesse Smith 3 0-0 8, 22 Danny Surowiec 4 0-0 9, 35 Evan McFadden 2 1-3 5. Totals 27 16-20 79.
Methacton: 1 Anthony Daddazio 1 0-0 3, 5 Mason Conrad 0 0-2 0, 12 Sal Iemmello 6 2-3 16, 15 Cam Chilson 8 1-2 21, 23 Alex Hermann 5 3-3 13, 24 Matt Christian 7 0-0 20. Totals 27 6-10 73.
3-pointers: M-Daddazio, Iemmello 2, Chilson 4, Christian 6.