by Tom Utescher

Mount St. Joe junior Bridget Higgins calls out a play from the top of the offensive formation. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

When a basketball team suffers its first loss after starting out the season with a 16-0 record, people are bound to be curious to see how that ballclub will react the next time it takes the court.

Following a 43-39 loss on January 23 to the girls of Archbishop Prendergast (whose school has merged with the former all-male Monsignor Bonner to create a particularly awkward moniker), Mount St. Joseph Academy looked shaky at the start of last Tuesday’s tilt with visiting St. Basil’s, but the host Magic caught up in the second quarter and went on to win, 40-31.

Most of the winners’ offense came from seniors Steph Smith and Mary Jo Horgan, who registered 18 and 13 points, respectively. Juniors Bridget Higgins, Maddie Kohler and Cailin Schmeer each added three points as the Mount remained unbeaten in Catholic Academies competition, at 8-0.

While the Magic improved to 17-1 overall, St. Basil fell to 10-7 and saw its AACA record slip to 6-3. The Panthers also relied heavily on two scorers, receiving 26 of their 31 points from slashing guard Jackie Thompson (15) and from Jill Lynch (11), a forward who can shoot from distance. Three points from Annie Buckley and two from Annisa Flores filled in the scoresheet for the Jenkintown team.

In another league game five days earlier, a knee injury ended the season for MSJ sixth-man Kelsey Jones, a sophomore guard who gave the Magic a significant spark coming off the bench. It was immediately after this mishap in a meeting with Gwynedd Mercy that the loss to Prendie occurred.

“We played hard, but we didn’t play well,” recounted MSJ’s Higgins. “We had sort of a defensive lapse. We were still undefeated in the league, so we just wanted to put that loss behind us and play better in the future.”

The Magic had won at St. Basil, 41-25, back in mid-December, and the Panthers were blown out by Villa Maria, 45-22, in the first week of January. After that, St. Basil’s prospects began to improve with an upset win against Nazareth, which at one time was considered the top challenger to the Mount for the Catholic Academies championship.

“You can’t overlook the fact that we have two key injuries, because we’d be a different team with those two girls,” pointed out Panthers coach Terry Mancini. “But now I think some of the younger girls have gained some experience, and they’ve learned their roles and what we need to do to win.”

Higgins noted that the Magic’s defensive lapses against Prendie seemed to carry over into the beginning of the St. Basil game. The Mount’s half-court defense was not as tight as usual, and the Panthers romped to a 9-1 lead in a little over four minutes. Grabbing a pass from Higgins, Smith laid in the Magic’s first field goal of the game with two minutes left in the opening quarter, and the tally was 12-6 at the end of the period.

A drive at the start of the second round put the visitors up 14-6 and gave Thompson six points in the game, but the SBA senior was shut out for the rest of the first half. A three-pointer by Horgan and inside strikes by Smith and Higgins led the hosts on an 11-0 run, then the Panthers’ Lynch launched a “three” in the final minute, forging a 17-17 tie for the intermission.

As the teams progressed through the third period and into the fourth, the Magic went ahead again, but could not make a clean break with St. Basil. Three-point field goals by Horgan and Kohler were matched by Lynch and Thompson of the Panthers, and with four minutes remaining in the game, the Magic held just a one-point edge, 31-30.

After sinking the second of two free throws, MSJ’s Smith scored off a rebound and then bagged a medium-range jump shot. Just before her second field goal in this sequence, an illegal screen was called against the visitors’ Buckley, giving her team a sixth foul in the second half.
St. Basil’s Thompson missed a three-point lob, but at the other end of the court Horgan did not, upping the hosts lead to nine points (39-30) with 1:25 on the clock. This was the last field goal of the day, and one free throw for each team tacked the final score on the board.

Mount St. Joe could’ve collected as many as six points at the foul line in the closing minute, but only netted one point from three one-and-one’s. With 29 seconds left the visitors waved the white flag and emptied their bench, and the Magic were back on the winning track.