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GEOGHEGAN: Unionville prevails in a classic season series against Rustin

WEST GOSHEN — It comes along every once in a while in sports. And it can be a sight to behold.

Competitors get together and the result is a magical blend of wills, athleticism and personalities. In many ways, it’s an indefinable mesh of styles that most often produces great drama and intrigue.

In boxing, think three classic bouts from Ali-Frazier in the 1970s.

It can happen in any era, in all kinds of different sports, and it doesn’t have to be on a national or international level. If there was ever any doubt, that fact was reinforced this winter in the relatively tiny sphere of boys’ basketball in the six-member Ches-Mont American.

Unionville’s Sean Neylon goes up for a shot in front of Rustin’s Peter Reinheimer. (BILL RUDICK)

That brings us, of course, to West Chester Rustin-Unionville: Part Four, as in the fourth and final meeting of the 2019-20 season. And Tuesday’s clash — which went to Unionville 61-49 — was the most impactful of them all. And they’ve all been big.

Two teams from the same division in do-or-die mode, with the winner moving on to the PIAA Class 5A Quarterfinals and the loser packing up the gear for the offseason.

“It’s all about toughness because we know each other so well,” said Indians’ senior Logan Shahanan. “We’ve played (Rustin) seven times last season and this season.”

The first two in 2019-20 were regular season classics, split by the visiting squad each time by a total of eight points. After sharing the division crown, the two met in the district quarterfinals, where the Knights prevailed by 11. Add in Tuesday’s result, and these two rivals have a cumulative score of 215-214 in four clashes. That’s 128 minutes of basketball over 16 quarters.

“Wow. It is unbelievable. That shows how evenly matched these two teams are,” said Rustin head coach Keith Cochran.

“It’s special to play a team four times in one season because you know there are going to be big post-season ones.”

Now 21-7, the Indians move on to the elite eight, to take on West Chester East on Friday. It will be a rematch of the Ches-Mont Title Game, where the Vikings prevailed 60-52.

“This feels great because it was against Rustin,” Shanahan said. “We took this one personally because they beat us the last time.”

Originally slated to be played at Oxford, the site was changed to West Chester East late Monday. Not long after Unionville announced that its high school (and Patton Middle School) was closing as a precaution against the possible spread of the Coronavirus, Oxford decided it did not want to host the contest.

Similarly, nearby Coatesville notified the PIAA that it was declining to host to a Class 6A second round matchup as scheduled on Wednesday after one of the two competing teams, Lower Merion, closed its school on Tuesday.

“I did worry that we may not get a chance to play this one,” Cochran admitted. “It’s unfortunate we had some changes and adversity to deal with, and (Unionville) did too.”

It was also a shame because the crowd wasn’t at capacity, as it almost certainly would have been if not for the global health pandemic which is now seeping into everyday life, including high school athletics.

“This is not normal,” Cochran said. “You care about the safety of not only our kids, but everybody. We don’t know all there is to know and we don’t want to find out later that we did something that we shouldn’t have done.”

As for matters limited to basketball, the Indians actually had the advantage because they dropped the last meeting with the Knights, according to Unionville head coach Chris Cowles.

“I think the team that lost the previous game had an advantage because it kind of forces you to do something different,” said Cowles, who played for Cochran at Rustin in the late 2000s.

Unionville changed it up in several ways, including some tweaks to its offensive attack, as well as employing a different way to guard the post while putting more of an emphasis on contesting the Knights’ shooters.

“With kids, it’s a psychological advantage if you lost the last time out,” Cochran agreed, “because if you just won, no matter what you say to you players, there can be a sense of overconfidence.”

To the surprise of nobody, the first half was a physical, defensive struggle. It was, after all, a battle between squads that know each other well, in addition to a pair of teams coming off defensive gems. The Indians held District 12 runner-up Martin Luther King to 29 points in round one, and the Knights allowed just 44 to District 2 runner-up Wallenpaupack.

Rustin actually had the lead briefly, 25-24, but Unionville ended the third quarter on a 13-5 run, and then added a 9-0 spurt to close it out in the fourth.

“I have mixed feelings about it because I love Keith (Cochran),” Cowles said. “I played for him. But I thought tonight was indicative of who our players are – they were phenomenal.

“This game also says that we are in a very good division, and we were last year with Great Valley. It probably doesn’t get the respect it deserves, but now we are starting to see it.”

The highlight matchup within a matchup was an intense inside battle between the 6-foot-6 Shanahan and Rustin’s beefy 6-5 junior center Jacob Barksdale. Each scored 16 points to lead their respective squads.

“We have not figured out a way to limit Barksdale yet. And Logan is an elite player,” Cowles said.

“Because we don’t see those low-post battles as much anymore, it’s harder and harder to get kids to play that way now,” Cochran added. “This will let (the players) see that having an inside presence is an advantage.”

The final tally in the unusual season series is 2-2. And even though Rustin had one more point over the course of the four matchups, Unionville came away as the big winner – and its season continues.







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