EAST MARLBOROUGH >> It was an evening of firsts on Tuesday at Unionville.
For the first time since unveiling its new nickname a day earlier, the UHS girls’ basketball squad did something it had previously been unable to do during Fred Ellzy’s six-season stint as head coach: beat West Chester Rustin.
“A lot of special things took place here tonight – this is the first time we are the Longhorns. And to win it like we did was a big emotional lift,” Ellzy said.
“Now hopefully we can build off it.”
The final score was 46-43, but the Longhorns trailed most of the way before putting on a critical mid-game surge to get back into it, and then managed to score 10 of the final 15 points to complete the comeback.
“We absolutely let this one slip away,” said Golden Knights’ head coach Lauren Stackhouse.
Now 2-0 in the Ches-Mont American (3-0 overall), Unionville heads into Thursday’s clash with defending champion Great Valley with some momentum. Rustin falls to 1-1 in the league, 1-2 overall.
“It was just a great win,” said UHS sophomore guard Riley Angstadt, who led all scorers with 13 points.
“This was a huge game,” echoed Ellzy. “We are fighting for (the American) side of the league so every game is important. Plus, this is the first time we’ve beaten Rustin since I’ve been here.”
Trailing by a couple points, the Longhorns got back-to-back 3-pointers from Angstadt and Milana Amoss to take their first lead of the outing, 42-41, with 3:35 to go. A subsequent driving bucket by Savanna Long put Unionville in front for good at 2:17, but the Knights had two possessions to take the lead in the final 64 seconds only to turn it over both times. The first was a steal by UHS’s Alexia Brown and the second came on a partial block by Anya Bedow that was corralled by Angstadt.
“Unionville put really good ball-pressure on us and we didn’t take care of the ball,” Stackhouse explained.
Clinging to a 44-43 lead, Angstadt sank a couple pressure cooker free throws with 8.2 seconds on the clock, and a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer by Rustin’s Gracy Shivers was off the mark.
“We’ve lost to Rustin a lot in the past, so this win gives us a lot of confidence heading into Great Valley on Thursday,” Angstadt said.
“You could feel the momentum shift as we started hitting some big shots.”
The finish was a complete departure from the start as the Knights’ three-quarter court zone pressure gave the Longhorns fits in the opening quarter. Rustin scored 11 of the game’s first 13 and forced eight first quarter turnovers.
“The girls fought hard,” Ellzy said. “We’ve started slow in all three of our games so far this season, but they play tough in the second half.
“It was our first home game and there is always jitters. We’ve practiced on beating pressure, and they just needed some time to settle in. Everybody was so excited – we have parents here watching the game, and we aren’t used to that.”
At one point, Unionville trailed 20-6. But the Longhorns staged a game-altering 14-3 rally at the end of the first half and into the second, and that set the stage for the final surge.
“We have to figure out how to start better, but we’ve been great figuring out how to get back into the game,” Angstadt said.
“(Unionville) came out with a purpose in the second half and we need to make adjustments,” Stackhouse added. “We thought we matched their intensity, but in the end it just came down to a couple missed opportunities and a couple things just didn’t go our way.”
Emma Dempsey scored eight of her 10 points in the second half for the Horns. Amoss and Lindsey Robbins added seven and six, respectively, to give Unionville a balanced attack.
“That is the strength of our team right now,” Ellzy pointed out. “We have quite a few talented players and at any moment somebody can step up and hit a big shot.”
Shivers paced Rustin with nine points and Laney Costin chipped in eight, but did not score in the second half.
“With COVID, this season is now a sprint so every win in meaningful,” Stackhouse said. “This one definitely hurts a bit and we are going to have to recoup and do our best not to let a lead like that slip away.”
Unionville 46, West Chester Rustin 43
WC RUSTIN – Flynn 3 1-2 7; Shivers 3 0-0 9; Betchyk 4 0-0 8; DiCampi 2 0-0 4; E. McGurk 1 2-2 4; L. McGurk 1 1-2 3; Costin 4 0-0 8. Totals 18 4-6 43.
UNIONVILLE – Dempsey 4 0-1 10; Brown 1 2-4 4; Robbins 3 0-0 6; Bedow 1 0-0 2; Angstadt 5 2-4 13; Amoss 3 0-0 7; Lang 2 0-0 4. Totals 19 4-9 46.
WC Rustin 11 12 13 7 – 43
Unionville 6 10 16 14 – 46
3-pointers: Shivers 3, Dempsey 2, Angstadt, Amoss.