Avon Grove falls one point short against West Chester East
● By Steven Hoffman
For a game that was played at a frenetic pace, the conclusion of the Feb. 3 contest between Avon Grove and West Chester East came with astonishing calm. With 2.9 seconds left to play and her team trailing by one point, West Chester East point guard Caitlin Culbertson drew a foul as she looked to make her way toward the basket. She stepped to the free throw line where she blocked out the noise from the enthusiastic Avon Grove crowd and calmly sank both free throws, giving her team a 55-54 win.
Avon Grove turned in a commendable performance, battling back from a 17-7 deficit at the end of the first quarter. West Chester East’s Holly Hager and Maura McCloskey combined for 19 points in the first half as the Vikings dominated the play inside the paint.
Avon Grove started to rally in the second quarter as the pace of play continued to build with each passing minute. Cyndie Martin hit a jumper, while Mackenzie Boyer contributed two quick buckets. Chandler Salley completed a three-point play from the free-throw line when she scored a basket and was fouled, pulling Avon Grove to within five points. Another basket by Martin and a free throw by Boyer cut West Chester East’s lead to 27-23 at the end of the second quarter.
Avon Grove’s energy level picked up noticeably in the third quarter. Taylor Harper hit a jumper and a three-pointer in quick succession, giving Avon Grove its first lead of the game at 28-27. The team was working hard on defense and West Chester East was having a difficult time getting off good shots. The Vikings were held scoreless for the first three minutes of the third quarter. West Chester East’s players raised their intensity levels, too, and Avon Grove also found it difficult to score.
Hager broke her team’s scoring drought, and she later hit a three-pointer from the corner as West Chester East pushed back out to a six-point lead.
Boyer and Salley worked their way to the free-throw line late in the third quarter, and they combined to pull Avon Grove to within two. Jessie Richardson then tied the score at 36-36 when she made a nice move to the hoop for a basket. In the waning seconds of the quarter, Richardson made a great play to track down a loose ball on Avon Grove’s end of the court and then knifed her way through three defenders to score another basket. The home crowd roared as Avon Grove claimed a lead, 40-38.
The team continued to apply defensive pressure to West Chester East as the fourth quarter got underway. The pressure prompted a turnover and a traveling call against the Vikings as the team once again suffered a scoring drought.
It was Hager, again, who would find a way to put points on the board. With 6:15 left to play, she got the steal on an inbounds pass and raced to the hoop for an easy basket.
Missy Crowell buried a jumper from the corner to give Avon Grove a 42-40 lead. Then, with 3:59 left in the game, Crowell hit a three-pointer from the right corner to push her team’s lead to 45-42.
When Richardson stepped to the free throw line for Avon Grove with 2:25 left to play, the noisy gym fell completely silent as she made the first free throw. The team held a 48-45 lead.
A moment later, West Chester East capitalized on their opponent’s turnover when Hager earned a trip to the free throw line and made both. The Vikings trailed by one, 48-47.
The furious pace of play resulted in fouls on both teams. Culbertson hit two critical free throws with under a minute. Salley answered back for Avon Grove when she also made both shots from the charity stripe.
West Chester East’s Lexy Hartman pulled her team back to within one point with two free throws of her own.
Avon Grove pushed the ball up the court and that led to a quick basket by Boyer.
Hartman responded with a clutch jumper, and it was a one-point game again.
Avon Grove’s next shot wouldn’t fall, and that gave Culbertson the chance to be a hero when she worked her way to the free throw line with less than three seconds to play. She was good on both.
Avon Grove called a timeout and then got off one last shot before the buzzer, but it didn’t fall. West Chester East had a hard-earned victory while Avon Grove had one of its strongest showings of the season.
Hager scored 23 points to lead West Chester East. McCloskey added 12 points. Culbertson scored 8.
Salley paced Avon Grove with 13 points, while Boyer added 11. Harper scored 8 points.