by Tom Utescher
It wasn’t the Angry Birds® chirping wildly at last Friday’s state tournament opener outside of Reading, it was just a flock of basketball officials tweeting away at the Mount St. Joseph Academy Magic during the first half of a Class AAAA game against hometown favorite Wilson High School.
Three Mount players were slapped with two fouls apiece in short order and the Magic were whistled down 10 times in the first two quarters while there were just three calls against the Lady Bulldogs, but Mount St. Joe still held a 17-15 edge at the intermission. The visitors from Philly picked up fewer of these violations in the second half, and in the initial 11-and-a-half minutes coming out of the intermission they outscored Wilson 20-5, continuing on to win, 43-20.
The fifth seed from District 1 coming into the tourney, the Magic raised their overall record to 25-5 and advanced to a second-round showdown with the top-seeded squad from their own district, Spring-Ford High School. Spring-Ford had handed the Mount its first loss of the season back on January 14 (38-46 on a neutral court), and in Friday’s PIAA debut the Rams steamrolled Manheim Township (District 3’s seventh seed), 55-24.
As the third seed from District 3, Wilson got to play Friday’s contest just 10 minutes from its own campus, in the gym at Governor Mifflin Intermediate School. This facility was unusually capacious for a middle school ball hall, but nevertheless it filled to overflowing with fans for both the girls’ game and a boys’ bout that followed.
Proximity had no payoff in the end for Wilson. The Bulldogs closed out their season at 26-4, but with only one senior starter, a strong group of sophomores, and a good-sized freshman post player, Wilson has a lot of upside going forward.
Two of those 10th-graders, six-foot forward Carley Brew and guard Avery Marz, play on the same Philadelphia Belles AAU team as MSJ sophomore guard Alex Louin. In the bleachers for the game were three players from Shipley School who are also part of that particular Belles bunch.
Louin led off the scoring with a trey from the left, then senior Cailin Schmeer sank two short jumpers and scored off a rebound as the visitors (geographically and on the scoreboard) went up 9-4 in a little over five minutes. Marz’s second field goal of the night for Wilson closed out the quarter at 9-6, then three free throws tied it for the Bulldogs.
Schmeer and sophomore Regan Gallagher converted off of offensive rebounds and Louin drove for a lay-up, but Wilson kept pace with a baseline “J” and four-for-four foulshooting.
Earlier, just 70 seconds into the second period, the Magic were hit with their eighth team foul while there was still just one for Wilson. Schmeer, senior classmate Bridget Higgins, and junior Meg Geatens each had two personals. The refs seemed convinced that girls basketball players are made out of brittle porcelain or delicate crystal, citing individuals for minor incidental contact that would not have drawn a call back in the big city.
However, the last foul of the half was hung on Wilson (its third), and MSJ junior Kelsey Jones bagged both free throws to nudge the Magic ahead, 17-15, going into the break.
Mount coach John Miller remonstrated with the refs, but he knew that ultimately his players would simply have to adjust to the way the game was being called, and he told them as much.
To open the third quarter Schmeer shot a three-pointer and fellow senior Maddie Kohler canned a slightly shorter jumper, then after Brew bagged a Bulldog basket, the Magic delivered another three-two punch courtesy of Higgins and Louin. That stretched the lead to 10 points (27-17) and forced a Wilson time-out with 3:43 left in the period.
Mount St. Joe carried a 29-20 advantage into the fourth quarter, and Wilson already had five team fouls. While many of the Mount’s shots from the floor were dropping straight through the hoop, a lot of the Bulldog attempts were making contact with the rim, and it hardly gave the hometown team any friendly bounces at all.
In the fourth frame, the Magic produced a lot of points from the foul line, as well, hitting nine of 10 tosses before missing their final four in the last 90 seconds. Higgins, who netted all of her 11 points for the night in the second half, was perfect in the fourth quarter on a one-and-one and a pair of two-shot fouls.
Wilson did not score in the concluding stanza until Brew fired from the paint with 4:21 on the game clock, making it 37-22. The Mounties had the game well in hand, but with 3:51 to go the victory became a very costly one. Jones, who had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in January of 2011, appeared to have a recurrence of the same injury, dropping to the floor in a lot of pain.
The Magic finished out the affair in a more somber mood, winning by 13. Schmeer, who’d helped keep the Mount going in the foul-filled first half, ended with five rebounds, four steals, and a game-high 12 points. Higgins, who came on in the second half, had seven rebounds to go with her 11 points, while Louin stayed steady with five points in each half, along with a total of eight rebounds. Geatens gave four points to the cause, and there were two apiece for Jones, Gallagher, and Kohler.
Brew led the Bulldogs with 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Marz finished with six. Wilson’s leading scorer this season, lanky senior guard Hilary Yoh, finished with four points.
The Magic had overcome adversity early in the game to post a sound victory. In most circles they’d been favored to beat Wilson, but any state tournament win is an accomplishment to be valued. Just ask Cardinal O’Hara and North Penn High School, well-regarded teams who upset the bracketologists when they fell by the wayside in Friday’s first round.