Washington High School’s basketball season came to an unexpected end last year.
With Observer-Reporter Player of the Year Josh Wise leading the way, the Prexies expected a long playoff run, but that did not happen.
Washington lost to Burrell, 61-50, in the second round of the WPIAL Class AA playoffs. The defeat left the five returning seniors this year with a bitter taste. Wise and three other contributors are gone, but these Prexies have a plethora of talent.
The Prexies displayed that veteran savvy Friday night with a 27-point fourth quarter that pushed Wash High to a 68-44 win over Section 4 rival Fort Cherry.
Wash High (4-0, 9-1) led by nine points at halftime, but an offensive surge by Fort Cherry in the third quarter saw the Prexies’ lead cut to just six points with less than seven minutes remaining to play.
Wash High responded with a 13-4 run over four minutes to pull away from the Rangers (1-2, 3-5). Fort Cherry was revitalized in the second half when senior Matt Heslin came off the bench to hit two three-point shots and senior Nick Zando added seven points in the third quarter. Heslin finished with nine points, and Zando led the Rangers in scoring with 12.
The Prexies were led by senior Dupree Jenkins, who scored 18 points, including four shots from three-point range. Junior forward DeQuay Isbell added 17 points. The second-half response came after a sloppy first 16 minutes of play for the Prexies, who went just 2 of 10 from the free-throw line in the first half.
“It was very big,” Jenkins said of the comeback. “We came back after losing to (Canon-McMillan) then knocked off two Triple-A teams. It was very good to come back and state ourselves, because they say Fort Cherry is ranked (higher) than us in the section. We showed it out there tonight.”
The spark for Wash High in the second half was senior forward Quorteze Levy. While Levy was in foul trouble during the first half, his rebounding and play at both ends of the court sparked the Prexies after Fort Cherry began to sink shots. Levy finished with 13 points, all of which came in the second half. Levy grabbed two offensive rebounds on one Prexies’ possession to set Isbell up with an easy layup and stole a ball that resulted in a fastbreak layup.
The slow first half included missed free throws and seven missed layups. But Wash High head coach Mark Gaither was impressed with how his team responded to that adversity.
“It’s always tough when you are playing over the break and kids aren’t in school,” Gaither said. “You are just out of synch and out of your normal routine. It’s always a weird day. We think we can have a special team and that we can be pretty good. We have a lot of areas we need to improve on. But when things weren’t going our way, our team is learning to trust each other, stick together and win in different ways.”
Fort Cherry lost three players to injuries during Friday night’s game – senior Zak Dysert, senior Sean Darragh and junior Jesse McKean. Despite the issues with shot selection and missed opportunities, the Rangers had a chance to come back on the road against a Wash High team that is fresh from two victories over Class AAA opponents – West Allegheny and Elizabeth Forward.
“I don’t think they are 24 points better than us,” Fort Cherry head coach Rob Baier said. “If our shots fall, it’s a whole different story. They’ve got a good team, and he’s a great coach.”
The Prexies are looking to reach the playoffs again out of Section 4-AA and build on the program’s reputation.
“It says a lot about us,” Jenkins. “It’s a nice reputation. You see the banners. We are trying to get up there and try to get this Washington season going. We lost one game, and we are trying to not lose again. We are trying to show everyone that we are good and that we can do what past teams did.”