EAST MARLBOROUGH – It was a District 1 5A Playback game, but it meant everything to the Unionville boys’ who wanted desperately to punctuate a regular season that included a share of the Ches-Mont American basketball crown.
The Indians did it with a forceful 62-43 victory over visiting Radnor on Wednesday, and it propels Unionville to its first PIAA Tournament berth in 14 years.
“We are trying to stay in the micro, and when it’s all over we will take a step back and look at it,” said Indians’ head coach Chris Cowles. “It’s a great accomplishment for these guys and they deserve it. It guarantees us another week of practice, so that’s big.”
Four days after a lackluster 11-point loss to West Chester Rustin in the quarterfinals, fourth-seeded Unionville (18-7 overall) bounced back impressively. The Indians will host No. 6 Strath Haven (17-9) on Friday in the district’s fifth-sixth contest.
“We learned from Saturday (against Rustin) just to be ourselves and stay in the moment,” said junior Sean Nealon, who poured in a game-high 23 points that included a long-range shooting exhibition.
“We were so disappointed in all aspects with what happened Saturday,” Cowles added. “We weren’t ourselves. So to come out and do what we normally do was good to see.”
The eighth-seed Red Raiders end the season with a 15-10 record. Radnor stayed with the Indians early and late, but were outscored 29-5 in one stretch sandwiched around the intermission.
“I love this group,” said Raiders’ head coach Jamie Chadwin. “The personalities that came together made this special. I am just sad that this was the last game for our seven seniors – that this was the way we ended our season.”
The first half started with the Indians struggling to hit a single shot, but ended in a hail of three-pointers by Nealon. The 6-foot-2 guard connected on seven three-pointers, which may or may not be a career-high.
“I don’t know,” Nealon said. “It seems like my best. It was kind of surreal.”
Jack D’Entremont scored all nine of Radnor’s first quarter points, but the Raiders were unable to take full advantage as the Indians misfired on their first eight shots from the floor.
“We just stayed confident,” Nealon said.
“We kind of had our way getting in the paint early, but then we took some contested shots,” Chadwin explained. “We weren’t as smart with our shot selection and that gave (Unionville) an opportunity, and they have guys that can shoot it.”
Tied 9-9 heading into the second, Unionville soon lost leading scorer Logan Shanahan to foul trouble, and then proceeded to end the half on a 16-2 run, with Nealon leading the way. He buried four three-pointers in succession to power the Indians to a 27-14 halftime lead.
“When we execute on offense we tend to make shots,” Cowles said. “And we started to get some transition looks because we actually were doing what we were supposed to be doing on the defensive end.”
And after Unionville scored 13 of the first 16 points of the second half, the lead expanded to 23 and the Raiders were in deep trouble.
“(Nealon) got loose a bit, he hit one that caught every part of the basket and went in, which kept the juice going for them,” said Chadwin, who spent seven seasons as the head coach at Immaculata. “In the second half I thought we were there on a lot of his shots and he made them. On a couple of them, other than tackling him, I don’t know what we could have done.”
Nealon scored 12 points by himself in the second quarter, which was seven more than all of the Raiders combined.
“We have a lot of guys that can hit shots, but for whatever reason when Sean hits them it seems to energize our entire team and the crowd,” Cowles pointed out. “He’s a crowd favorite, so when he goes off like that it gets us looser in a good way.”
Matched up with D’Entremont most of the evening, Shanahan scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half. Bryce Whitlock and Jonathan Passarello chipped in 11 points apiece for the Indians.
D’Entremont paced Radnor with 21 points, and Lewis Robinson added 11. But the rest of the Raiders combined to score 10.
“We have goal from the start of the season, and it’s still in front of us. But that’s between the coaches and the team,” Cowles said.
“This is a big win, but we have bigger goals,” Nealon confirmed.
“We play together and when one person starts hitting shots, it seems like we all start hitting them. We feed off of each other.”
Unionville 62, Radnor 43
Radnor 9 5 11 17 — 43
Unionville 9 18 17 18 — 62
RADNOR – Lane 1 0-1 3; Thornton 1 0-0 2; Robinson 4 3-4 11; Savadove 1 0-0 3; D’Entremont 8 5-8 21; Boujoukos 1 0-0 2. Totals 16 8-13 43.
UNIONVILLE – P. Kucharczuk 1 0-1 2; Nealon 7 2-2 23; Shanahan 6 2-2 14; Passarello 4 3-4 11; Lenkaitis 0 1-4 1; Whitlock 5 1-2 11. Totals 23 9-15 62.
Three-point goals: Lane, Savadove, Nealon 7.