by Tom Utescher
After a relatively routine win in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round in the NCAA Women’s Summer League playoffs, the top-seeded Lime Green team found its undefeated record in jeopardy late in Thursday’s semifinal contest against the Cardinal Red club.
Fifth-seeded Cardinal overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half to go up by a point with under four minutes to go, but two-time defending champion Lime rallied and then held on for a 65-62 victory, earning a spot in this week’s best-of-three final series. Lime Green, which includes Mount St. Joe grad Elle Hagedorn and is coached by her father, Ted, will square off in this week’s best-of-three final series against the second seed, Team Black, which knocked off number three Hunter Green in the other semifinal on Thursday, 72-58.
In the quarterfinals, Black eliminated the Philadelphia University entry, Team Orange (the seventh seed), 69-51. Earlier on Tuesday evening, Lime Green won its own playoff opener, 72-51, over number eight Purple, as guard Katie Kuester accumulated a game-high 26 points.
An opening lay-up by Devon Kane and seven straight points by her former Academy of Notre Dame teammate, Kuester, launched Lime Green to a 9-0 lead, but although they remained in control the rest of the way, this wasn’t your typical first seed/last seed blow-out.
Purple regained its poise and closed up the score to 9-5, then Lime’s Katie O’Reilly recorded a 15-footer and a three-point field goal back-to- back. Lindsay Fluehr tacked on a lay-up and free throw to make it 17-5.
That pattern repeated itself, with Purple shaving some points off of its deficit, only to have Lime Green rebound with a little offensive burst, often spearheaded by Kuester. She had 21 points at halftime, when the league leaders were up 37-28.
Lime’s Liz Sharlow canned seven of her nine total points after the intermission, and her club quickly pushed its lead into double figures for good. Approaching the ten-minute mark, the score was 55-37, and at its widest the gap reached 24 points.
Two of Lime’s regular big guns, Dana Mitchell and Meg Pearson, scored 11 points between them, but there was more than enough point production from Kuester, O’Reilly (10), Sharlow, and Kane (eight) to get the job done. Forwards Devin Shea and Addie Micir recorded 14 and 13 points, respectively, for the Purple, who got a dozen points from shooting guard Trish Watson.
The Team Orange hoopsters from Philly U. had a lot of players on hand for their quarterfinal game, but they were missing senior Kristen Blye, a team co-captain and one of the squad’s most experienced post players. Even with one of their own inside starters missing, Team Black had a size and rebounding advantage.
This, along with strong guard play from former Spring Ford High School star Ashley Wood (now at Kutztown), among others, allowed the second seed to control the tempo of the game after about the first 10 minutes. Orange hung in for the first quarter of the contest, though. After Black burst out to a 13-4 advantage, Orange sophomore Tori Arnao (Archbishop Wood) scored eight points in a 10-2 run that tightened the score to 15-14.
After that, though, Orange was held without a field goal for almost four minutes as Black took control with an 11-1 counterattack. Following a halftime interlude with the scoreboard resting at 40-25, Orange struck first when play resumed, but the next 16 straight points belonged to the Black.
Although GA grad Monica Schacker rang up all of her seven points in the second half, Team Black was able to cruise to the finish line behind 21 points from Kerry Kinek, a forward just entering Lehigh University. Wood hit 13 points for the winners and fellow guard Jasmine Elum added 12, while the Orange ended up with 14 points from Arnao and eight from Najah Jacobs, a guard in her second year out of Central High School.
Whenever the Lime Green ballclub takes the court, the opposition tries to contain Kuester, and in Thursday’s semifinal round Cardinal Red did a good job in that regard. But while Kuester was held to a relatively modest seven-point output, Mitchell reasserted herself on offense, scoring inside and out for a game-high 27 points (including a 10/11 effort at the free throw line).
Mitchell’s total was almost matched by diminutive but dynamic Cardinal Red guard Ashley Morris, who struck for 25 points. Morris played for Central High and Temple University, and now is back at Central heading the girls basketball program.
In the first half, Lime Green built a lead that approached double-digits at one stage, and Cardinal Red trailed by half-a-dozen points at halftime, 31-25. The top seed forged ahead by as many as a dozen points in the middle of the second stanza, and again Cardinal came back, this briefly enjoying the advantage at 51-50. Lime Green regained the lead and went up by a couple baskets before Morris made a “three” just before the buzzer, setting the final margin at three points.
Pearson contributed nine points to the winning cause, while Cardinal Red received 12 points from Emily Homan and six from Kelly Loughney, both of whom played on Hagedorn’s team in 2011.
In the other semifinal, Kinek once again led the victorious Black team with 18 points, while a game-high 19 was deposited by Hunter Green guard Ciara Andrews, just out of Cheltenham High School and headed to St. Joseph’s University.