by Tom Utescher
“He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, will stand a-tiptoe when this day is named.” Shakespeare, Henry V, Act Four, Scene Three
Pigs flew, Hell froze over, and the sun set in the east. Almost anything became possible last Friday, when the girls of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy won a basketball game against perpetual nemesis Germantown Academy.
The Lions’ 51-47 triumph was truly an historic occurrence; no one could remember SCH (Springside School up until 2011) ever beating the GA Patriots on the hardwood. Ursinus College coach Jim Buckley, who was at Friday’s game in Fort Washington and who coached the Pats from the early 1980’s up until the 1997-1998 season, had never lost to the Lions while at GA, and even before that, the Patriots dominated their rivals from Chestnut Hill.
Last Friday SCH owned modest leads at the end of each of the first three quarters, then went up 50-40 with two-and-a-half minutes left. GA came back to 50-47, but Lions junior Julia Schumacher tacked the game’s final point on the board from the free throw line.
The diminutive guard made seven of her eight foul shots during the afternoon, delivered eight assists, and came away with a game-high 20 points while her backcourt companion Gianna Pownall, a senior, scored 18. Two Norwood Fontbonne Academy grads, junior forward Madi Sehn and senior guard Maddi Hinchey, scored six and four points, respectively, and sophomore Olivia Byron added a field goal. Freshman forward Lindsay Hiner completed the winners’ total with one free throw, and led the team in rebounds, with 11.
GA senior Kiernan McCloskey collected 14 of her 18 points in the first half, and fellow forward Margaret Anne Hubbell, a junior, led the Patriots’ final comeback attempt and posted 10 of her 14 points after the intermission. Sophomore guard Olivia Gorman gave the hosts 10 points, with freshman Kendall Grasela and senior Dempsey Cooper, also guards, adding three and two points, respectively.
After seemingly countless seasons suffering brutal blow-outs at the hands of the Patriots, SCH seriously challenged GA in both of their Inter-Ac League meetings last year. The first time around Germantown had to come from 11 points down to win, and in the rematch the Pats needed a late lay-up to send the game into overtime, where they finally prevailed.
Similar close contests did not seem to be in the cards this season, since SCH graduated four of last year’s starters and started out this winter with a total of just 12 players on its varsity and JV teams.
After splitting two games in a holiday tournament, SCH arrived at GA last week with a 5-7 overall record, and a 1-0 mark in the Inter-Ac thanks to a win over Baldwin. The Patriots travelled down to a highly competitive tournament in Atlanta during their break, coming away 1-2 for an overall record of 6-6. In league games before the trip GA went 2-1, defeating Baldwin and Agnes Irwin, and losing to Episcopal Academy.
SCH’s Pownall noted that last Friday at GA, “We came out with intensity. I went out knowing this was one of my last chances to beat a great team that we had never beaten before. Once we saw that we could hang with them, it raised our hopes, and I think we settled down and played the kind of game we wanted to play.”
Both teams ran the floor in the opening quarter. Hinchey quickly collected her four points on a jumper and a transition lay-up assisted by Schumacher, but three drives by McCloskey helped give the Patriots a 10-8 edge with five minutes gone. Pownall popped a “three” from the keytop and then stole the ball back to score on a breakaway, and eventually the period ended with the Lions ahead 15-14.
The teams proceeded neck-and-neck through the second stanza, as well, with the visitors still up a point, 25-24, as the clock closed in on halftime. With six seconds to go, Pownall drove for a lay-up that set the tally at 27-24 for the interlude.
In the initial four-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter, Springside Chestnut Hill’s Schumacher hit a short jumper, drove the baseline, and scored on the break off of a Pownall pass. GA’s Hubbell put in a free throw during this 6-1 spurt for the guests, who now led 33-25.
Germantown’s efforts in the backcourt had already been affected by fouls in the first half, when Grasela picked up two personals and senior Fran Sweeney was saddled with three. As a result, freshman guard Erin Lindahl saw a good deal of playing time, and performed well.
After SCH went up by eight, the last three minutes of the third quarter and the first minute of the fourth frame saw GA embark on a 10-0 run.
McCloskey led it off with a short jumper from the lane, and Hubbell and Gorman each added two field goals to move the hosts ahead, 35-33. The teams traded free throws, and then Schumacher scored to put the Lions in a 36-36 tie.
Although McCloskey had started GA’s third-quarter rally, the Lions were able to limit the Lehigh signee to a total of four points in the second half after she funneled in 14 over the first two quarters.
“We packed it in and we doubled down on her,” Pownall noted, “and that helped even though we’re not as tall as they are.”
The Lions also took steps on offense to offset GA’s superior size.
“We spread the floor out with some new plays that we put in,” Pownall revealed. “It got more people involved and created more movement on offense, without as many people in the lane.”
Following the tie at 36-all, the visitors moved ahead as Sehn sank three of four free throws on GA’s seventh and eight team fouls of the half.
After SCH’s Pownall and GA’s Gorman exchanged driving lay-ups, Pownall hit a three-pointer from the right wing and Gorman came in along the left baseline to score for the Patriots, making it 44-40. With 3:34 remaining, Pownall notched both shots on a one-and-one for a six-point Lions lead.
Ask the clock clicked down past the three-minute mark, Schumacher stuck four straight free throws for SCH, which was now in the double bonus. The Patriots called time-out with 2:31 to go, now down 50-40.
Hubbell hit a lay-up, and after an SCH miss at the far end of the court, the GA junior drew team foul number eight from the Lions and made the first shot of a one-and-one. Her second free throw was off-target, but McCloskey scored off the rebound, getting the Pats back within five (50-45) just 33 seconds after their time-out.
Next, GA got the ball back thanks to the possession arrow, and Hubbell scored off a weak-side rebound to make it 50-47. Was this the final comeback that would leave the Lions heartbroken once again?
“I guess we got a little scared, but we didn’t want to give the game away,” Pownall said. “We knew we had to keep our composure and not throw the ball away even though they were pressing us.”
There was a steal by GA, then another tie-up for a jump ball, and this time the arrow favored the Lions. SCH was now in the double bonus and the Patriots were forced to foul Schumacher, who made the second of two shots with 20.9 seconds showing to stick the 51-47 final on the board.
At the other end, a missed GA shot was rebounded by McCloskey, but on her own attempt the ball hung on the front of the rim and then fell back away from the hoop. She grabbed the ball again and drew a foul, but couldn’t find the net on two tries from the line with under five seconds left.
Off of yet another tie-up, GA inbounded the ball from the baseline with two seconds left, and a final heave by Hubbell missed the basket.
There wasn’t any wild celebration near the SCH bench; it was almost the reverse. The enormous significance of the milestone the team had reached inspired a kind of quiet reverence, everyone awed by the occasion.
But you can be certain that the next morning, every Lion awoke with a smile on her face.