by Tom Utescher
The landscape has changed a lot in Girls Inter-Ac basketball over the past few years, but the teams that have won the most league titles between them, Germantown Academy and the Academy of Notre Dame, still maintain a fierce rivalry.
The latest installment unfolded last Friday at Notre Dame, which led much of the time through the first two quarters. The GA Patriots were actually up 19-18 at halftime, but the Irish seized the initiative again when the third quarter began, and Germantown could never quite catch up.
“In the first half we played really good team defense, then to start the second half we kind of broke down a little and let them hit their shots,” GA senior forward Kiernan McCloskey said. “We came back, but in the end they hit their foul shots and we couldn’t score.”
Winning 49-44, Notre Dame reached an overall record of 11-1 in a highly successful season, attaining a 5-0 mark in the Inter-Ac. GA slipped back across the Schuylkill at 7-8, 2-3.
“We’ve been resilient this year,” noted longtime Notre Dame mentor Mary Beth McNichol. “We’ve been down in a lot of games or really close in a lot of games, and we just seem to keep pulling them out. The girls don’t lose their cool, and a big part of that is that we’ve had great senior leadership. I give GA credit today because every time we took a little bit of a lead they managed to claw back in it.”
Seemingly endless whistles for touch fouls didn’t favor one team over the other, but the incessant analog tweets from the officials gave the affair a herky-jerky quality and certainly made it less enjoyable to watch.
Both teams had picked up wins three days earlier. Following a loss to Springside Chestnut Hill the previous Friday, the Patriots had leveled their overall record with a triple-overtime victory at Delaware’s Caravel Academy. The 70-65 triumph was powered by 27 points and 15 rebounds by McCloskey, and 23 points and 13 boards from another forward, junior Margaret Anne Hubbell.
Springside Chestnut Hill Academy had gotten the attention of the league with its success at GA, and when the Lions hosted Notre Dame last Tuesday, a deliberate style of play netted them a 19-16 halftime lead.
However, Bucknell-bound guard Megan McGurk rode Irish bench with two fouls for a number of minutes in the first half, and when she returned full-force after the interlude, the Irish took over the game with a 20-2 third quarter. McGurk finished with a game-high 19 points, while SCH was led by six points apiece from senior Maddi Hinchey and freshman Lindsay Hiner.
McGurk was not as productive on Friday with an eight-point performance, but Notre Dame’s other Division I recruit at guard, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, scored 14 of her game-high 20 points in the second half, sinking a pair of her trademark extra-long distance three-pointers.
Particularly in the second half, GA depended on sophomore guard Olivia Gorman to stay in the game. Hitting one short jumper before halftime, she came on to stick three treys after the break and finished with a team-high 15 points.
Relying upon a 10th grader this much didn’t pan out for the Patriots’ offense overall. Lehigh signee McCloskey, always the focus of opposing defenses, still managed 11 points in the contest. Hubbell, the 11th-grader, put up 12 points, but none of McCloskey’s four senior classmates scored at all.
McCloskey commented, “We always joke that Notre Dame knows our plays better than we do – they scouted us well. They keyed on me and they also keyed on our other older players, and we didn’t have as many people scoring as we’re used to. I know I wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been.”
Points from five different players helped the Irish attain a 14-9 advantage nine minutes into the game, but two free throws from Hubbell and a three-pointer by McCloskey hauled the Patriots back into a tie at 14-all midway through the second quarter. The tally seesawed to 18-18, then freshman Kendall Grasela stepped to the foul line and scored her lone point of the afternoon, sending Germantown into the locker room at halftime with a one-point edge.
The Irish charged back onto the court for an 8-0 run capped off by a score by Fitzpatrick off of a steal. The future St. Joe Hawk now had 10 of her 20 points in the book. GA managed a few free throws but didn’t score a field goal until freshman guard Erin Lindahl (five points total) made a successful drive with 37 seconds left in the third period.
The one useful asset the Irish lack is size in the low post, but Germantown wasn’t making the best use of its height advantage. On most occasions when Patriot “bigs” collected a rebound or caught a pass near the basket, they brought the ball down to a level where Notre Dame could either strip it or tie it up for a jump.
Near the close of the third quarter, the Irish were up by eight, but luckily for the visitors Gorman began to turn it on from the outside. The sophomore bagged her first “three” with five seconds to go to make it 32-27 for the start of the final round.
She and Notre Dame’s Fitzpatrick traded triples during the first minute, then Notre Dame got into the foul bonus (the double-bonus would follow with 2:33 remaining). The Irish didn’t score from the floor over the final seven minutes, but they made 14 of their 18 free throws, with Fitzpatrick and a fellow senior guard, Nikki Callahan (six points total), each going four-for-four.
As the clock descended from seven minutes to two, Hubbell made two of four foul shots for GA, while McCloskey and Gorman each found the net from three-point land and Gorman hit a running lay-up. This kept the visitors in the game, and they only trailed 42-40 when Notre Dame called time-out with 1:36 to go.
“We came down the court a couple times and we had one pass and a shot,” McNichol remarked. “We weren’t trying to stall, but we wanted the kids to use a little bit of the clock and be patient about choosing a shot.”
The Irish got two makes at the free throw line from Callahan when GA senior Fran Sweeney committed her fourth personal, becoming one of four Germantown players who would finish with that foul total. Gorman drew contact on a three-point attempt and made two of her tosses from the charity stripe, but another two-for-two by Callahan had the hosts ahead 46-42 with 69 seconds left.
GA missed a lay-up, had to foul in the double-bonus, and saw Fitzpatrick raise the score to 48-42 with 54 ticks to go. The Patriots called a time-out after Hubbell put in a lay-up with 41 seconds on the clock, then the 49-44 final score went up on the board when the hosts’ Emily Ferro filtered in the second of two free throws with 27 seconds remaining.
Still needing more than one scoring possession to avoid defeat, GA was slow to get off a shot. Notre Dame’s Fitzpatrick blocked a baseline attempt by Gorman with under five seconds left, and it was all over.
UPDATE – On Saturday at the Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic, GA faced Villa Maria, a team very similar to Notre Dame and one which had lost to the Irish in overtime. The Pats prevailed in this one, 42-37, after trailing 24-22 at the half. McCloskey scored on a putback at the end of the third quarter for a 30-30 tie, then two free throws by the senior and a trey by Gorman pushed the Patriots ahead for good at the start of the fourth quarter.
Still up by five heading into the final minute (40-35), GA came up empty on two one-and-one’s while a drive by Jackie Carlin got Villa back within three points. With seven seconds left, a steal by Gorman led to a pair of free throws by Sweeney that rounded out the scoring. The winning effort included 20 points from McCloskey (11 rebounds) and nine apiece from Hubbell (10 rebounds) and Gorman. Senior guard Lisa Mirarchi led the Hurricanes with 14.