EAST MARLBOROUGH >> It was wild, but somehow kind of appropriate.
The top Ches-Mont girls’ basketballs squad from each division collided on Monday, and they took turns looking like the league’s best — Downingtown East in the first half and host Unionville in the second.
But in the end, the visiting Cougars built such a massive early cushion that they were able to survive a monster comeback by the Longhorns to win the unofficial Ches-Mont title, 42-33.
“We are now into the playoffs and there are no playbacks,” said East head coach Tm Schurtz. “Your season is on the line in every game. So if tonight helps bring us a more complete 32 minutes of basketball, then it was a valuable learning experience.”
Now 12-1 overall and the Ches-Mont National winner, the Cougars looked unstoppable in just about every area while building a 20-point halftime lead. But Unionville (7-2 overall) refused to give up and made it a contest.
“It’s disappointing when you know that if you could have played better at the start, it might have been a different outcome,” said Longhorns’ head coach Fred Ellzy. “But just the fact that our players hung in there and played hard is very important.”
Seeding for the upcoming District 1 6A bracket will be released on Wednesday, and the 20-team single elimination tournament will get underway on Saturday.
Unionville was seventh in the power rankings heading in to Monday’s clash. East was fifth, and has now won nine in a row.
“Despite the errors we made, I thought we had timely shots in the second half to keep (Unionville) at arms-length,” Schurtz said. “While it got close, I didn’t feel we were in trouble.”
A critical 3-pointer by freshman Milana Amoss helped the Longhorns pull to within five, 34-29, midway through the fourth quarter. But moments later, Cougars’ senior Mary McFillin buried one of her four 3-pointers, and Unionville never got any closer.
“When you are on, you’re on,” said McFillin, who scored a game-high 20 points. “I knew my coach trusts me to take that shot so I took it.”
Another senior, Caroline Brennan, then delivered an old fashioned 3-point-play to put the Cougars in front by nine with 2:45 to go, and the Longhorns managed just one more bucket the rest of the way.
“You have to credit Unionville. They came back ready to play,” Schurtz said.
“Those were moments (by McFillin and Brennan) we are accustomed to seeing out of our players. That’s why you are glad to play in a game like this before the playoffs start. We haven’t playing in this kind of atmosphere all season.”
Unionville turned to full-court pressure in the second half and it yielded 16 turnovers and helped the ’Horns outscore East 28-17.
“We had a nice talk at halftime, we talked about being aggressive, and they did it. We made it a game,” Ellzy said.
“We talked at the half about showing some pride in ourselves. It shows that even being down by a lot, the game is never over.”
The first half, however, was a nightmare for Unionville as it connected on just two shots from the field and trailed 25-5 at the intermission.
“I thought that was probably the cleanest first half we’ve played all season,” Schurtz said. “We were where we needed to be, we had timely shooting, we created open looks and we were very much in rhythm. I was very pleased.”
The Cougars nailed a half-dozen shots from beyond the arc in the opening 16 minutes, including three by McFillin.
“I told our players that if (East) comes out and makes 3-pointer after 3-pointer, we are going to shake their hand at the end of the game,” Ellzy said. “There is nothing we can do about that.
“In the first half, we missed a ton of shots. We had some great looks, and they just kept hitting 3’s. That put us into a hole.”
Unionville connected on just two field goals in the opening 19:26 of the contest, and was just 4-12 from the free throw line overall, but somehow came back to make it competitive. Senior Emma Dempsey led the Longhorns with 11 points and Amoss came off the bench to add 10.
“(Unionville) played great defense in the second half,” Schurtz said. “We blinked a bit, and if you do that against a good opponent, you are going to pay for it.
“You play on the road against a quality team, they are not going to quit. This is playoff basketball. (Unionville) kept grinding, we made some mistakes and they capitalized on those mistakes.”
Brennan chipped in 10 points for East, who has now reigned over the Ches-Mont for three consecutive seasons.
“It makes me feel great to know all that we’ve accomplished the last three seasons,” McFillin said.
Downingtown East 42, Unionville 33
DOWNINGTOWN EAST – Denning 1 0-0 3; McFillin 7 2-2 20; Kent 1 0-0 3; Brennan 4 1-1 10; Hewitt 2 0-0 5; Smuda 0 1-3 1. Totals 15 4-6 42.
UNIONVILLE – Dempsey 4 1-3 11; A. Brown 2 0-0 4; Robbins 1 0-2 2; Angstadt 1 1-2 3; Amoss 4 1-2 10; West 1 1-3 3. Totals 13 4-12 33.
Downingtown East 14 11 7 10 – 42
Unionville 4 1 15 13 – 33
3-pointers: Denning, McFillin 4, Kent, Brennan, Hewitt, Dempsey 2, Amoss.