By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) —The whispers were prevalent, winding through Villanova’s Pavilion in record speed of “Chester’s down year.” If there was a time to nip the Clippers, this would be the year. Or so the whispers suggested.
For years, the Clippers have been the standard in District 1. There were 10 new players comprising the team this season. No other-worldly stars in the past, like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or a Jameer Nelson, to tote the freight. So naturally, doubts followed.
The Clippers answered them Friday night winning a fourth-straight District 1 Class AAAA championship in a hard-fought 52-49 victory over Pennbury before a raucous crowd.
Chester, Pennsylvania’s gold standard in high school basketball and in the area, has now won 11 of the 13 District 1 Class AAAA champions.
As an idea of how strong District 1 Class AAAA is, over the last six years, a District 1 team has won the Class AAAA state title. And in four of those six state finals, it was a matchup of two District 1 teams.
Since 2000, District 1 teams have won 10 of the last 14 state championships. The last non-District 1 team to win the state title was DeJuan Blair-led Schenley in 2007.
But at Chester, the bar is always set higher than other programs. The Clippers are expected each year to win the state championship, and the district title is usually the jumping point.
Chester (22-5 overall) entered the district tournament as the No. 2 seed, behind No. 1 Conestoga, which fell to Pennsbury (21-5), the No. 5 seed, in the district semifinals.
“We know we’re team’s championship game, and that was no different tonight,” Chester coach Larry Yarbray said. “The way [Pennsbury] was reacting at halftime, they thought they had this won. But I’ll be honest, from Day One, I knew we had the right pieces to be a good team. The kids had to learn from the beginning, and they have.”
Chester’s Tyrell Sturdivant was already way ahead of the curve. The 6-foot-8 senior who’s heading to Stony Brook led Chester with 17 points, 17 rebounds and 5 blocks, including the play of the game.
With :16 to play, Pennsbury’s Cameron Jones, who stung Chester for 17 points, 12 in the first half, was stopped by Sturdivant, who came from nowhere to block Jones’ shot.
“Pennsbury thought they had us,” Sturdivan said. “Do you see the way they were reacting at halftime, they acted like the game was won already. We knew it wasn’t. We knew we had another gear with our depth and they didn’t. We knew we were coming back. We knew we were going to win this game.”
It was far more tense than Chester wanted. Chester led once, 1-0, and didn’t regain the lead until Keyonte Watkins nailed a trey with 2:12 left that gave Chester a 50-47 lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.
Chester forced 14 Pennsbury turnovers, nine coming in the second half.
“I don’t think we had trouble with their pressure, we had foul trouble,” said Pennsbury coach Bill Coleman, who was quite animated on the sidelines during the game, jumping up and down and gesturing. “We tried to get the ball to Cameron and they were clutching, grabbing, everything they could do to hold him.”
Both teams will be moving to the state tournament. Chester, once again, will be on the eastern side of the state, while Pennsbury will be in the western part of the state bracket. There is a chance these teams may see other again. History suggests it’s a good possibility.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.