HEIDELBERG – When Washington saw its season end last February against Burrell in the WPIAL Class AA playoffs, Nate Swart watched from a steel chair.
Swart, then a freshman forward, injured his ankle the weekend prior to the game. He was forced to watch from the bench as the Bucs ended Wash High’s playoff run.
When the two teams met in a preliminary-round matchup Saturday, Swart was not forced to sit and watch. Instead, he used a 13-point second half and finished with a team-high 22 points to propel the Prexies to a 68-52 win over Burrell at Chartiers Valley High School.
“To play like that in my first playoff game is huge,” Swart said. “We handled Burrell well, and that was our first complete game of the season.”
Swart’s second-half surge came when the Prexies (17-6) had the Bucs on their heels. Swart and junior forward DeQuay Isbell dominated in the post and senior guard Dupree Jenkins forced Burrell’s guards into poor shot selection.
Wash High led 35-23 at halftime before Swart began his assault on the Bucs’ defense. Using a combination of driving to the lane and strong perimeter shooting to stretch the defense of Burrell, which blanketed Jenkins on the outside, Swart took over in the final 16 minutes.
Much of the attention drawn away from Swart was the result of dominant play by Jenkins, who scored 16 first-half points and finished with 20.
Less than three minutes into the third quarter, Prexies senior Quorteze Levy was attempting a free throw when Jenkins backpedaled near the Burrell bench. Bucs coach Shawn Bennis told Jenkins to please slow down and stop making shots. The 6-0 guard could only laugh.
After losing to Burrell (6-16) last season, Saturday’s performance was exactly what Jenkins was aiming for.
“It feels good to get that win,” Jenkins said. “Words can’t even describe it. We haven’t played a game like that all season and it was the perfect time for it.”
The preliminary matchup was a game of Wash High’s strength in the post against Burrell’s weakness: lack of size and experience. The Bucs did not have a player returning from last year’s team, which reached the WPIAL title game, and the playoff jitters showed early. The Prexies jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead and a 16-point first quarter, grabbing rebound after rebound to set up second chances.
On a day when they rarely missed a shot, the Prexies had Isbell and Swart to keep possession of the ball and extend plays against a team featuring only one senior in its starting lineup and a freshman as its leading scorer.
“When Dupree, Nate and DeQuay are on the same page, we’re tough to beat,” Wash High head coach Mark Gaither said. “(Dupree and Nate) did a lot of nice things on the offensive end and DeQuay didn’t miss a rebound.”
The combination of weapons posed a matchup problem for Bennis and the Bucs, as they did not have an answer for Swart’s size and Jenkins’ speed. Burrell was depending on Wash High to turn to its inside game, as the Bucs stacked the lane, but it was the Prexies’ outside shooting that made the difference.
“Jenkins is an incredible defender and Swart is a heck of a kid to matchup against,” Bennis said. “He’ll take you inside or shoot from outside. When we tried scheming against their inside game, they made us pay.”
The win advances Washington to the first round against Summit Academy (15-5) Wednesday at a site and time to be determined.
“It will be a great game,” Gaither said. “We are doing a nice job of working together and trusting each other. Summit has a few nice wins under their belt, so it won’t be easy.”