Unionville boys hold on for tough win, 46-43

Second straight close win bodes well for jelling Indians

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Unionville High School sophomore Ryan Engle powered his team past Gospel of Grace Christian Academy, 46-43, Thursday, in the opening round of the Unionville Holiday Tournament. Engle score 14 points for the Indians. Ken McGann photo.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — For Unionville High School boys basketball, it was getting late, early.

Beset by a series of tough, close losses to open the season, the Indians stumbled out to a 1-5 start under second-year head coach Anthony DiNicola, but now with two wins in a row, the latest an impressive and hard-fought win over Gospel of Grace of Cheltenham, 46-43, things are looking up for Unionville.

“The kids play hard — we’ve pulled out two wins in a row, pulled out close basketball games,” DiNicola said. “If you look, with the exception of the Garnet Valley game, we’ve either been down one or tied going into the fourth quarter, so we’ve been competitive every night.”

And to be sure, this game was competitive, but the Indians led from start to finish — even if that finish turned out to be tighter and more tense than expected.

Powered by a red-hot sophomore point guard Ryan Engle — who scored 7 in the opening quarter, Unionville ran out to a 13-8 lead at the end of one and were able to maintain that lead to the half, holding on to a 22-15 lead, and again, keeping that seven-point margin at the end of three quarters, 31-24.

Unionville’s Tom Pancoast battles for space in the paint against Gospel of Grace, Thursday. Ken McGann photo.

The final quarter, though, offered more chills and spills — and some worries that another strong effort could fall just short. But gutsy play in the final minutes — senior Patch Johnson was a steady hand in crunch time — allowed the Indians to hold on for the win.

But, in the early going of the 2012-13 season, it’s been converting these close games into wins that’s been the issue — something now that the Indians (3-5) have done two straight contests and added confidence headed into what will be a tough match up against Nueva Esperanza of Philadelphia, which handled neighboring Kennett, 52-37, earlier Thursday.

“We expect to win, I expect to come here and get a victory,” DiNicola said, of the Friday night finale of the Unionville Holiday tournament.

Unionville’s Ryan Montgomery goes strong to the hoop against Gospel of Grace, Thursday. Ken McGann photo.

DiNicola said Thursday’s effort showed how his team is continuing to grow as a unit — that even on a night when his team’s shooting was under par, they worked the ball on offense and found a way to score. The Indians’ passing continues to improve — and may have been the difference maker, Thursday night.

Sophomore point guard Ryan Engle had a very strong game, scoring 14 points and managing the offense effectively and providing stopper defense when needed. Senior forward Kyle Fries added 11 points and some tough rebounds, as aprt of an overall team effort. Senior Brad Pechin hit a pair of threes, with Tom Pancoast chipping in six and Brandon Rusinque adding seven.

With a strong defensive effort against a team that scored 82 earlier in the season, the Indians were able to grab an early lead and maintain it — even if things got a little hairy in the final minutes of the game.

“Defensively, our game plan worked very well tonight,”  DiNicola said. “We face guarded their two best players and then everybody else was in help. I thought it worked well for three and half quarters.”

Late in the game the Saints (3-3) managed to score off turnovers and had some better success getting the ball inside, where they had some height advantages.

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