by Tom Utescher
After launching their basketball season at a central Pennsylvania tournament two weekends ago, the Mount St. Joseph Academy Magic dug right into their Catholic Academies schedule last week, winning home court contests over Villa Maria (34-31 on Tuesday) and Merion Mercy (50-26 on Thursday).
The Mount finished the week with Saturday’s 49-16 road romp at Delco Christian Academy, raising its overall record to 5-0.
The early-season victory over Villa was particularly important, since the Hurricanes are always solid contenders for the AACA title and lost to the Magic on a buzzer-beater in the league finals last winter.
Last Tuesday’s game wasn’t decided until the final minutes, which didn’t come as a surprise to fans of the two programs. After a field goal by MSJ junior Meg Geatens tied the bout at 28-all with just over two minutes remaining, Villa’s Lisa Mirarchi hooped one of two free throws to give the Hurricanes their final lead of the evening.
Both teams were now in the double bonus, and after Mount guard Bridget Higgins drove in near the right baseline to deposit a lay-up, she hit two free throws to make it 32-29 with 40 seconds to go. Later, sophomore guard Alex Louin rounded out the Magic’s total by sticking two foul shots with 12.3 ticks on the clock. A pair of Villa free throws with five seconds left locked in the final margin at three points.
Higgins had a game-high 16 points and junior Kelsey Jones and sophomore Carly Monzo added five points apiece for the winners, while the visitors were paced by Maddie McTigue, with eight points, and Mirarchi, with seven.
“Obviously, we put ourselves in a real nice position by defeating Villa Maria,” Mount coach John Miller remarked. “I told the girls we want to take advantage of that, while still taking one game at a time.”
Speaking of the pivotal role of Higgins, his senior point guard, the MSJ mentor noted “Bridget adds a lot of energy. I’ve been observing that the girls look to Bridget for leadership, and that’s something that has emerged naturally. She’s ready to lead our team.”
By all indications the meeting with Merion two nights later would not be as challenging, but Miller had some words of caution for his charges.
“I did remind them that two years ago in this very same gym against Merion Mercy, the game went down to the wire, literally to the last play of the game. When it’s a league game, you’ve got to be prepared for anything.”
The Golden Bears actually had a chance to draw first blood with a pair of free throws in the opening minute, but both attempts failed and instead the visitors found themselves behind 10-0 with 2:51 to go in the initial period. A jumper from the foul line by Christina O’Shea got the Bears on the board, but the quarter concluded with the hosts ahead, 14-2.
Merion was more successful penetrating to the hoop in the second stanza, and was only outscored 11-9, making for a 25-11 halftime tally. MSJ’s Higgins had acquired her second personal foul six minutes into the game, but Kelsey Jones came in to take over at the point. After missing much of last season with a knee injury, the junior appeared to be back in form.
“Kelsey takes care of the basketball for us and has a nice way of settling us down,” Miller said. “She has a very good understanding of the game. Even when she’s beside us on the bench, she’s always pointing out things that are very accurate, yelling to the girls ‘look for the double,’ and so on.”
The Magic reasserted themselves during a third quarter in which senior guard Maddie Kohler chalked up seven of her nine points for the night. Her classmate Cailin Schmeer was also dialed in for the third round, posting six of her eight points as she hit the Mount’s first three field goals of the second half. The Magic went ahead 34-11 before the Bears scored their first points of the second half.
Louin was consistently productive during the engagement, splitting her team-high 12 points evenly between the halves and recording six steals and five rebounds.
Staurday’s non-league rival, Delco Christian, proved considerably less formidable since the graduation of 6’3” Emily Homan, who is now playing at Lafayette College along with MSJ grad Sarah McGorry (’08). The Magic were up on the Knights 25-8 at halftime, and the gap kept growing despite the Mount’s liberal use of its bench players.
A roll call of eight different Mount St. Joe scorers was led by Louin, with 13 points, and Higgins, with 10.