WEST CHESTER >> There was a nostalgic feel to Saturday’s boy’s hoops clash between visiting Octorara and West Chester Henderson.
Former league rivals, the Braves now play in the Lancaster-Lebanon League. And the Warriors’ convincing 65-52 non-league triumph was a clear indication as to why Octorara exited the rigors of the Ches-Mont league back in 2016.
“I miss the Ches-Mont. It’s tougher – a different brand of basketball,” said longtime Brave’s head coach Gene Lambert.
“The layups we are used to getting in the Lancaster-Lebanon, we were not getting them here.”
During an early timeout, Lambert said to his team: “This is not the Lancaster-Lebanon League. You have to be stronger.”
But in the end, it was the Warriors who had the physical edge, and they used it to dominate the boards and outscore Octorara by 10 in the opening half from the free throw line.
“We have a gauntlet coming up this week: the two heavy favorites in our division in Downingtown West and West Chester East,” said Henderson head coach Jason Ritter. “So heading in we preached that the guards have to help out in rebounding, which has been an issue, and we didn’t get to the foul line much in our first few games.”
The Warriors are 3-1 heading into the league opener on Tuesday against the Whippets. It was the Braves’ first road game, and they fall to 3-1 overall.
“It was a physical game,” Lambert said. “(Henderson) is a tough team with good guards. I thought we would match-up a little better by making more shots, but we didn’t make a lot.”
Guards Connor Fleet, Nyle Ralph-Beyer and K’Mari Smith were a dominant unit, combining to score all but seven points for the Warriors. Fleet poured in 16 of his game-high 25 in the first half, Ralph-Beyer added 21 and Smith chipped in eight of his 12 in the first quarter.
“Those three can really go,” Ritter said.
“K’Mari, Connor and Nyle really feed and play off of each other well. They don’t care who gets the shots or the credit. They can really get it going in the open floor. It’s really a luxury as a coach. Sometimes I have to just shut-up and let them play.”
The Warriors grabbed the lead for good midway through the first half with a 15-2 surge that included 3-pointers by Fleet, Smith and Ralph-Beyer. Henderson also buried 14-19 free throws to take a commanding 40-24 lead into the intermission. The Braves were 4-8 from the line in the opening half.
“We just want to attack the rim and get to the lane rather than settling for 3-pointers. That’s how you get easy points at the free throw line,” said Fleet, who was 11 of 12 from the line.
Octorara employed some full-court and half-court pressure in the third quarter and started forcing more turnovers, but still had trouble cutting into the lead. It also didn’t help when Ralph-Beyer, a junior, had three rim-rattling dunks after halftime.
“We were trying to pressure (Henderson’s) guards and get the ball out of their hands,” Lambert explained. “We just couldn’t finish, and then they hit a couple big buckets to keep the separation.
“I wish we could have given them a better game, but we will get better.”
Sophomore guard Jason Johnson paced Octorara with 10 points, but all four of his buckets came in the first quarter. Lucas Thaler and Josh Bare added nine and eight points, respectively.
“We didn’t really guard (Octorara) well in the man-to-man, but when we went zone it changed the flow of the game,” Ritter said. “They got shots, they just couldn’t make them.”
In all, the Warriors forced 20 turnovers.
“If we are any good, we will find out Tuesday against Downingtown West,” Ritter said.
“We played well. We wanted to key in on defense because as good as we are offensively, defense is how you win championships,” said Fleet, a junior.
When asked about his team’s explosive backcourt, Fleet added: “I feel like we can be ever better. The three of us each have our strengths, so the sky is the limit. The goal is to win the Ches-Mont and, who knows, maybe go after a district championship.”
West Chester Henderson 65, Octorara 52
Octorara 13 11 11 16 — 52
WC Henderson 21 19 13 12 — 65
OCTORARA – Thaler 3 2-2 9; Bare 2 3-5 8; Lambert 2 0-0 4; Thomas 1 0-1 2; Leaman 0 1-2 1; Roberts 2 0-1 6; Miller 1 0-0 2; Falls 1 0-1 2; Kirk 2 3-6 7; Johnson 4 2-2 10. Totals 18 11-20 52
WC HENDERSON – Ralph-Beyer 8 3-3 21; Smith 5 1-2 12; Fleet 6 11-12 25; Smith 1 0-0 2; Nelson 2 0-2 4; McFadden 0 1-6 1. Totals 22 16-25 65.
Three-pointers: Thaler, Bare, Roberts 2, Ralph-Beyer 2, Smith, Fleet 2.