by Tom Utescher
For steadfast fans of Mount St. Joseph Academy basketball, watching last week’s second and third-round games in the District 1 tournament was like witnessing the Catholic Academies tournament all over again. First, the Magic pulled out a five-point win against an opponent many people thought they would beat more easily, and then they put on a commanding performance against a much more highly regarded rival.
For the Mount, the second seed in the district, the equivalent of the 45-40 league semifinal against Merion Mercy was last Wednesday’s 49-44 second-round district win over 18th seeded Central Bucks East.
Next, the Magic’s 57-41 league championship victory over Villa Maria on February 13 was echoed by an even more resounding triumph last Saturday, when Mount St. Joe skinned the Bears of Boyertown High School (the seventh seed), 62-24. Junior guard Alex Louin scored 36 points in the Mount’s two outings last week.
Having played their first three tourney games at home, the Mounties (25-2 overall) now will shift to Norristown High School for a Wednesday semifinal against number three Upper Dublin High School (24-1). The Cardinals’ starting line-up includes junior forward Regan Gallagher, who attended the Mount as a freshman and sophomore.
Meanwhile, a tidbit of news drifted in from the middle of the state, where the District 3 quarterfinals took place on Friday night. Sixth-seeded Central Dauphin East, the only team to beat Upper Dublin all season, pulled out a 59-57 victory over number three Cumberland Valley, which is one of just two ballclubs to get the better of the Mount this winter.
For last Wednesday’s second-round District 1 clash, C.B. East arrived at the Mount following a first-round victory over Conestoga High School, a win that yielded an overall mark of 16-7. Within the Continental Conference of the Suburban One League, East finished in fourth place with an 8-5 record.
The Patriots almost certainly would’ve put up better numbers if they’d been able to retain the services of junior Margaret Anne Hubbell. A forward who had played at East for two seasons, Hubbell joined another set of “Patriots” at Germantown Academy this year, earning a spot on the All-Inter-Ac League first team.
C.B. East still has a significant inside presence in 6’2” junior Courtney Webster, and this obviously was a defensive concern for the Mount Magic.
“We wanted to create a lot of ball movement to keep her from staying in one spot in the paint,” revealed MSJ junior forward Carly Monzo.
The Mount’s Louin recorded 10 of her team’s first dozen points as the contest unfolded. Nailing her second three-pointer in the waning seconds of the opening quarter, she then scored off a rebound at the start of round two for a 12-4 MSJ lead.
After that, though, the Patriots got two buckets from Webster during an 8-3 rally that made it a three-point affair (15-12) with three-and-a-half minutes to go until halftime. With a baseline drive by freshman Libby Tacka and a “three” by senior Adrienne Cellucci, the Magic put down the uprising. Near then end of the period they led by 10 points, but East’s Kyra Scaliti converted off a rebound at the buzzer to make it 24-16 at the break.
Tacka was having a good night on defense, and was primarily responsible for shutting down Patriots perimeter shooter Morgan Kelly, who totaled just two points all night after dropping 20 on Conestoga in the opening round of Districts. However, a guard similar in stature and style, Karoline White, came on for East in the second half, when she rang up 12 of her team-high 14 points.
It was a triple by White and five straight points from Scaliti that allowed the Patriots to tighten the score to 28-26 in the middle of the third quarter as East continued to show its staying power. As in the second round, an inside score by Tacka followed by a “three” from Cellucci opened things up again for Mount St. Joe.
After East got two points back from White, the period ended with a nice MSJ inbounds play from midcourt, with Tacka’s pass catching Louin on the run to make it 35-28 for the start of the final frame.
The next two minutes saw the Magic assume their largest lead of the night at 38-28, and it started with a trip to the foul line by Louin. She made the first shot, and when her second toss missed, Monzo leapt in for the rebound and scored.
Monzo noted, “Those are some of my favorite plays, when I can get a shot off of a free throw like that.”
Although the Mount went on to gain a 10-point advantage, East kept battling. Webster furnished all of the Patriots’ points in a 7-2 run that set the score at 40-35 with a little over five minutes remaining. From there, the score seesawed up to 46-41 as the clock carved into the final minute of play. MSJ’s Cellucci and Tacka each made one of two foul shots, and the foul against Tacka was the fifth for the Patriots’ Kelly, who departed with 26 ticks to go.
With 14 seconds remaining, White cut the lead back to four points (48-44) with a three-pointer from the left wing, but a few moments later she too fouled out, while Tacka tabbed the first of two free throws to put the final score on the board. The Mount had the ball in its hands at the buzzer, thanks to a steal at midcourt by Cellucci.
She finished with nine points, while Louin led the winners with 19 and Tacka tossed in 10. Six points from Monzo and five from senior forward Meg Geatens completed the scoresheet. In the losing cause, White wound up with 14 points and Webster with 13.
“White and the big girl were playing off one another really nicely,” Monzo said about East’s fourth quarter performance. “Our defense wasn’t on the same page on the pick-and-roll. We’re working on that so we do better the next time.”
Monzo certainly walked that talk three days later as the Magic confronted an even better big post player, Boyertown’s 6’1” Kaitlyn Eisenhard. Coming into the game at Mount St. Joe, the sturdy Bears senior needed just six points to set a new school scoring record of 1374 points. She reached that milestone, but with no room to spare, finishing with six on the nose thanks to a fourth-quarter lay-up.
“Carly Monzo did a terrific job defensively on their big girl, and really made her work,” remarked Mount coach John Miller. “She denied Eisenhard the ball most of the game, and if she did catch it, whoever our closest player was would double-team her.”
Every athlete on the floor wanted to reach the district semifinals, but Monzo and the other juniors and seniors on the MSJ team had some added incentive to beat Boyertown. When the Magic and their fans expected to earn a spot in the state tournament semifinals back in 2011, it was the Bears who ended the Mount’s season in the quarterfinal round.
Prior to last Saturday’s contest, Monzo said “We’ll be looking for some revenge for my freshman year.”
The MSJ defense never allowed the Bears more than seven points a quarter, going up 27-14 by halftime and then really putting the hammer down after that.
The tally for the final two periods was 35-10, and the winners landed four different scorers in double-figures. Monzo and Geatens each posted 10 points, Louin had the game-high of 17, and Cellucci was right behind her, with 16. The Ursinus-bound Cellucci, who has been raising her game at exactly the right time of year, knocked down three three-point shots, and Tacka struck once from beyond the loop. The Magic also received two points apiece from junior Colleen Steinmetz, sophomore Emily Carpenter, and freshman Sarah Wills.
With a team-high seven points, Boyertown’s Dee Terry finished one point ahead of the embattled Eisenhard.
“When you looked at their boxscores throughout the season, it was obvious that Boyertown went the way that Eisenhard went,” observed MSJ’s Miller. “Containing her would be the main factor in winning, and I really emphasized that point to the girls. They went out and did a tremendous job of executing our game plan.”