The Unionville High basketball team started this season with one specific goal: win the school's first Southern Chester County League championship since 1989.
As it turns out, Unionville didn't end that 17-year long drought, but they ended up erasing another one of the same duration.
A few weeks ago, Unionville saw its hopes of winning the SCCL dashed by Oxford.
"It was disappointing, and it would have been real easy for our guys to hang their heads," said Unionville head coach Kevin Crossman, whose squad finished with the second best record in the league this winter.
The Indians didn't throw in the towel, however.
Instead, Unionville closed the regular season by winning five of its final six games to earn the No. 3 seed in the District 1 Class AAA playoffs.
After routing Springfield (Montco) in the first round of the tournament recently, Unionville's senior-laden team played its final home game of their careers last Saturday night, and the group that has been responsible for helping resurrect the program went out in style.
Playing in front of a packed gymnasium, Unionville scored a monumental victory -- one that earned them a spot into the PIAA state tournament for the first time since way back in 1989.
The Indians accomplished the feat by defeating visiting Great Valley, an SCCL foe who they had already beaten twice in the regular season, by a score of 58-49 in the quarterfinal round of the District 1 Class AAA tournament.
The win also advanced Unionville into the district semifinals, where they were scheduled to face Radnor on Wednesday, March 1.
"I'm so excited about this game for our seven seniors," said Crossman. "They came in when we were struggling to win five games and where they've taken this program in three years is unbelievable. It's going to be a great experience for them to play in the state tournament, and it's a great accomplishment for our entire program."
The district quarterfinals are a pivotal round of the tournament. Lose, and you go home. Season over. Win, and not only do you make it to the district semifinals but you also punch your ticket to states.
Last year, Unionville lost in the quarterfinals to Phoenixville and just missed out on a state playoff berth.
"There was tons of pressure tonight, and it all just got lifted off our shoulders," said Unionville senior forward Sean Stewart, who scored 15 points in the win over Great Valley. "More than anything the experience of last year has taken us this far.
"We were disappointed about losing the league title to Oxford, and we want to prove ourselves in districts. We want a district title. We have so many seniors and I think we all want to go out with something on our banner."
Unionville (19-7) has gone a combined 36-14 the last two years since their current group of players stepped into the varsity lineup. Prior to that, the Indians had gone a miserable 15-51.
"When we came into this program our freshman year we were 3-20," said Unionville's star senior guard, Kevin Hovde, who will play Division I basketball at Richmond University next year. "We've just constantly turned this thing around, and I think everyone on our team gives so much credit to coach Crossman for all the time he's put in, and all the work that he's done for this program. This group of seniors is the first class that he's had all four years.
"We all knew that tonight could have been our last game, and that really pumped us up and made us play even harder," added Hovde, who scored a game-high 21 points. "No one wanted to go home. This was definitely the biggest game we've ever played in up to this point, and definitely our biggest win."
Sophomore point guard Tommy Barrett finished with nine points in the win over Great Valley, and senior forward Brian Guest added eight.
It was a pressure packed game in which Unionville looked like a team with a well-designed plan -- who executed it to perfection.
The Indians owned the third quarter against the Patriots, which helped them up their halftime lead of 24-21, and they cruised down the stretch. Unionville converted 11-of-15 free throws attempts in the second half, and played a smart and patient game on the offensive end. The Indians took up to a full minute off the clock at times late in the third and early in the fourth, protecting its sizeable lead, before going to the basket.
"It's so difficult to play a team three times," said Crossman. "Great Valley is very well coached and they always play us hard.
"I thought there was added pressure for us because we were playing at home tonight. There were a lot of emotions, and you could see it on our seniors faces. I'm so happy for them. They deserve this."