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Exeter falls to Imhotep Charter in second round of PIAA Class 5A boys basketball playoffs

COATESVILLE — For the second year in a row, Exeter failed to overcome the powerhouse that is Imhotep Charter.

Though they kept it close early on, the Eagles ultimately fell to the two-time defending PIAA champion Panthers 83-40 in the second round of the PIAA Class 5A boys basketball playoffs on Tuesday night.

Exeter lost to Imhotep 78-40 in last year’s state final.

“I thought our guys competed like I wanted them to in the first half,” Eagles coach Jeff VanGorder said. “We played at the pace and level that we wanted and made everything really tough for No. 0 (Ahmad Nowell). And I think our guys were really smart offensively, we made open shots.”

As VanGorder alluded, the Eagles’ made a close game of it in the first half, getting within one point of the lead on multiple occasions.

Trailing by three at the end of the first quarter, All-Berks senior Kevin Saenz scored the opening basket of the second to make it 14-13.

After the Panthers (26-3) stretched their lead to four with a 3-pointer by Ryan Smith, junior Brady Murray scored a 3-pointer for Exeter (19-10) with 3:30 left in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 19-18.

Exeter's Brady Murray hits a 3-pointer that drew the Eagles within one point in the first half against Imhotep Charter in a second-round PIAA playoff on Tuesday in Coatesville. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Exeter’s Brady Murray hits a 3-pointer that drew the Eagles within one point in the first half against Imhotep Charter in a second-round PIAA playoff game on Tuesday in Coatesville. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

From there, however, the Eagles started to lose their composure and never recovered.

Exeter senior Alex Kelsey was called for a technical moments later, which led to a momentum-shifting 11-5 run by the Panthers.

Imhotep Charter led 30-23 at the half and Ahmad Nowell led all scorers with seven points. He finished with a game-high 15.

“In the second half they picked up the pressure a little bit,” VanGorder said. “I thought our legs were tired. We missed some of the shots that we made (in the first half), which then allowed them to get out and run.”

Exeter scored just two points over the first six minutes of the third quarter while the Panthers went on a 25-2 run. Kelsey broke the scoring drought on a contested layup with 1:46 to go in the third, and finished with a team-high 12 points for the Eagles.

“Alex is the most competitive kid that I’ve had the pleasure of coaching,” VanGorder said about Kelsey. “He brought it every day, and that helped us every single day.”

Exeter's Alex Kelsey is called for a charge against Imhotep Charter in a second-round PIAA playoff on Tuesday in Coatesville. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Exeter’s Alex Kelsey is called for a charge against Imhotep Charter in a second-round PIAA playoff game on Tuesday in Coatesville. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

Imhotep Charter remained in control for the rest of the third and led 62-31 heading into the fourth.

Fellow Exeter seniors Kevin Saenz and Devon Nester each had six points, Murray finished with six and senior Reece Garvin had five points and six rebounds.

“Reece, he’s a senior leader and he’s made a lot of shots and played a lot of big games, so we’re gonna miss that experience,” VanGorder said about Garvin.

“Kevin is probably one of the most talented players in Berks County,” VanGorder said about Saenz. “We’re gonna miss his talent, but also I was proud of how he grew as a leader off the court. Doing a really good job with guys and taking them aside and being mentors. So I thought all three of those guys did an awesome job doing that. Devon Nester improved so much throughout the year.”

The seniors leaving the Eagles have certainly solidified their legacy as trailblazers for the program.

During the 2022-23 season, Exeter went 27-7, won its first division title since 1984, its first District 3 title in program history and advanced to the PIAA championship game for the first time since 1974.

Earlier this year, the Eagles snapped a 29-game losing streak against Reading High with a 79-55 victory over the Red Knights at the Geigle in which Saenz scored a game-high 21 points.

“I can’t say enough about the seniors and this program overall,” VanGorder said. “This senior class has won more games at Exeter than anybody in the history of Exeter over the last two years. They accomplished things that I think were dreams for Exeter kids growing up.”

For Saenz, the experience of playing for Exeter under coaches that have guided him to the aforementioned dream-like success will always hold a special place in his heart.

Exeter's Kevin Saenz drives the baseline against Imhotep Charter in a second-round PIAA playoff on Tuesday in Coatesville. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Exeter’s Kevin Saenz drives the baseline against Imhotep Charter in a second-round PIAA playoff game on Tuesday in Coatesville. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

“It’s meant my life playing for Exeter,” Saenz said. “This is what I do — I play basketball for a living and I want to play for a long time. So Exeter giving me an opportunity really meant a lot, from coach (Matt) Ashcroft to coach VanGorder, even my JV coach. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to play under those guys.

“I can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to shine and the trust that they put into me to take the team to where we needed to be. I don’t regret one game. I don’t regret one practice, not one moment with these guys in four years. I will remember this for the rest of my life.”

Looking ahead, Saenz said he believes that the Eagles will return with promise for years to come.

“(The future) is very bright,” Saenz said. “I know some young guys in middle school and we have a whole bunch of pieces coming back. I’m excited to watch these guys in the next few years.

“I will always praise Exeter. I will always hope and pray that they do better and better every single year, and I will be in tune with them for decades to come.”


Source: Berkshire mont

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