By BRAD SPAHR
WEST GOSHEN - There was plenty on the line Tuesday night when Downingtown East and West Chester East squared off in a key Ches-Mont League high school girls basketball game.
At stake was sole possession of first place in the National Division heading into the midway point of the regular season.
The showdown lived up to the hype. For two-and-a-half quarters it was an extremely well played game that was nip-and-tuck throughout. So much so, that there was little room for error.
Late in the third quarter, West Chester East slipped up and made that error. Visiting Downingtown East capitalized and never looked back on its way to a pivotal 42-32 victory.
The Cougars (5-1 National) took over first place in what is an extremely competitive race for the National Division title, with five teams separated by only two games in the standings. West Chester East (4-2), meanwhile, dropped into a three-way tie for second place along with Coatesville (4-2) and Bishop Shanahan (4-2). Downingtown West (3-3), the only team in the league to beat Downingtown East, is also right in the mix in fifth place.
Five days after falling to their archrivals, Downingtown East bounced back in impressive fashion as they were led by Paige Warfel's outstanding game. The sophomore netted a team-high 18 points, and was at the center of what turned out to be the turning point of the contest.
West Chester East, who got yet another great game from senior standout Nina Mazzarelli (20 points), held a 27-25 lead with 2:42 left in the third quarter.
That's when the game forever changed, though. Warfel scored a tough basket inside the paint, and drew a foul. Making matters worse on the play was the fact that Mazzarelli was whistled for a technical foul when she slammed the ball hard to the floor, bouncing it to herself and catching it, in frustration. It wasn't anything major, and more so a moment of disappointment with allowing the Cougars to score more so than anger at the officials' call. Nonetheless, it resulted in a technical.
Warfel and Downingtown East took full advantage of the error. Warfel made the first free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play, giving the Cougars a 28-27 advantage. She then swished both technical foul shots, upping the lead to 30-27.
Downingtown East would never trail the rest of the way on the heels of what was a pivotal five-point play.
"That really shifted the momentum of the game,' said Warfel. "This was a huge win for us. We really needed this game after losing to [Downingtown West] and we came out really hard and played tough all night. Now we're in the No. 1 spot in the division, which is big.'
Downingtown East received a balanced scoring attack as Kaelyn Johns (eight points), Kennedi Van Eyken (six points), Aryah Aungst (five points) and Lindsay Kent (five points) all had really good games as well.
For a West Chester East team who has played very good basketball all season, things simply fell apart from that point forward in the third quarter when they held a 27-25 lead. The Vikings didn't score a single point the final 2:42 of the period after the technical foul call, as Downingtown East closed the quarter on a 10-0 run to seize a commanding 35-27 cushion going into the final frame.
It got worse for West Chester East. Their offensive struggles continued well into the fourth, as they didn't score a point until a 3-pointer from Mazzarelli with 1:14 remaining and the result of the game already decided.
In all, West Chester East went a span of 9:28 in the second half without scoring. During that cold-spell that went from the third quarter into late in the fourth, the Vikings went from leading by two points to trailing 41-27, as Downingtown East went on a 16-0 run over that time.
"It's always a tough game when you play Downingtown East,' said West Chester East coach Moe Blatt. "All it takes is a little chink in the armor. That chink was that five-point play in the third quarter. They pounced on our mistake.
"We lost our composure from that point. This was a big game tonight and good teams take advantage of these types of situations, and we let it pass by tonight. Downingtown East took advantage, and now they are back in the driver's seat in the division.'
Downingtown East was outstanding in the second half. They forced nine Vikings' turnovers in the final two periods, and Warfel scored 12 of her 18 points after the break.
The Cougars also played terrific defense, allowing only 11 points in the second half, five of which came in the final 1:14 of the game.
After Warfel's five-point play with 2:42 left in the third quarter gave the Cougars a 30-27 advantage, Warfel scored the next basket with 1:54 to go in the third to up the lead to 32-27.
Then with 1:03 remaining in the third, Johns buried a jumper from the top of the foul line to push the cushion to 34-27. Downingtown East closed out the quarter when Kent drained 1-of-2 foul shots with 5.6 seconds left to make it 35-27.
The Cougars then opened the fourth on 6-0 run to make it 41-27.
"The girls did a super job in the second half,' said Downingtown East coach Bob Schnure. "That technical gave us a little spurt and some confidence.
"Then we did a really good job of closing the game out. That was nice to see the way we finished the game tonight. It was an important win for us, and the girls really did a good overall job. Now we're alone in first place, but there is still a lot of basketball left.'
Downingtown East 42, W.C. East 32
DOWNINGTOWN EAST: Van Eyken 3 0-0 6, Aungst 2 0-3 5, Warfel 5 8-10 18, Kent 2 1-4 5, Johns 3 0-0 8. Totals: 15 9-17 42.
W.C. EAST: Culbertson 1 0-0 2, Mazzarelli 7 4-4 20, Hager 2 0-0 4, McCloskey 1 0-0 2, Hartman 2 0-0 4. Totals: 13 4-4 32.
Downingtown East 7 12 16 7 — 42
W.C. East 10 11 6 5 — 32
3-point goals: Aungst, Johns 2, Mazzarelli 2.