by Tom Utescher
As Mount St. Joseph took the floor against Gwynedd Mercy last Saturday evening in the final game of the Catholic Academies’ 2014 Coaches Vs. Cancer basketball showcase, veteran MSJ fans may well have thought back to the 2013 meeting between the two teams in the same CVC event.
That game had been played almost exactly a year earlier at Chestnut Hill College, and last weekend the action took place at La Salle High School. In 2013 the victorious Mounties had received 17 of their 39 points from guard Alex Louin (then a junior), while this time around both the team and Louin (a Villanova signee) ended up one point shy of last year’s totals.
The similarities between the two contests ended when it came to the final margin of victory, though. Last year, Gwynedd’s Monarchs kept Mount supporters on the edge of the CHC bleachers right until the end, when the Magic survived for a 39-38 win.
This time around, Mount St. Joe broke the game open with a 17-0 run that bridged the first and second quarters, then cruised to victory, 38-25. The Magic emerged with a record of 15-2 overall and 9-1 in league play, while Gwynedd was 7-9, 4-6. Due to weather-related postponements, each squad now has to fit in its last four league contests in the short span before the AACA playoffs begin the second weekend of February.
Going down the home stretch in the regular season, Mount sophomore guard Libby Tacka revealed, “We’re just focusing on trying to come out strong and playing hard in every game, because we’ve been kind of up and down with that. We know we need to get that squared away for playoffs.”
Both the Magic and the Monarchs went 1-1 in the week leading up to last weekend’s meeting. On Saturday, January 18, Gwynedd rang up an important AACA victory over St. Basil, 32-28, while one day later Mount St. Joe lost a non-league encounter with Bonner-Prendergast, 46-55. Both teams saw action in the league last Thursday, when the Magic beat Merion Mercy, 55-39, and the Monarchs fell to Villa Maria, 29-40.
Back on January 4, the Mount had won 35-26 at Gwynedd, where both teams made a lackluster showing. The host team was still adjusting to the loss (through injury) of its original starting point guard, sophomore Bridget Coleman, while the Magic just didn’t display much intensity, leaving coach John Miller dissatisfied with their rebounding effort, among other things.
The Magic did better on the boards – and elsewhere – in last weekend’s rematch. While it’s true that sophomore forward Erica DeCandido gave Gwynedd a strong rebounding effort (along with a team-high 14 points), her playing time was limited due to foul trouble.
Still, the Monarchs got an early jump on Mount St. Joe thanks to the dynamic 10th-grader. Scoring on a drive and off of a rebound, as well as hitting a short jumper and sinking a free throw, DeCandido gave her squad a 7-4 edge over the first four-and-a-half minutes of the affair.
The Mount’s points had come on a pair of buckets by senior forward Colleen Steinmetz. While opposing defenses concentrate on MSJ’s marquee players, like Louin, Tacka, and Loyola-bound forward Carly Monzo, Steinmetz has helped the team in some big games this year by discretely contributing timely field goals to the cause. She finished with six points on Saturday, while Monzo and Tacka each scored eight.
All four MSJ scorers contributed to the decisive surge that began with a converted rebound by Monzo with under two minutes left in the opening period. Tacka’s three-pointer from the left corner moved the Magic ahead for good, then a baseline drive by Louin got the Mounties out of the opening period with an 11-7 edge.
Steinmetz started the second quarter with a lay-up, completing her scoring for the night. Next, Louin put back her own initial shot and added a free throw, and Tacka found the target with another three-point toss. When Louin came down the court and stopped-and-popped a short jumper, the Magic led 21-7 midway through the second stanza.
A lay-up by sophomore Maggi Cameron then broke a GMA scoring drought that had lasted almost nine minutes on the game clock. With the tally 24-11 at the intermission, Louin led all scorers with 10 points, although she also had two personal fouls. DeCandido’s seven early points made her the halftime leader for the Monarchs, although she had spent some time on the bench as she accumulated three fouls.
The score spread out to 30-11 over the first few minutes of the third quarter before Gwynedd got on the board with two free throws by DeCandido. Entering the final round with a 32-15 advantage, the Mounties saw their lead peak at 38-20 with under two minutes to go, then Gwynedd chalked up the final five points of the night.
Aside from DeCandido’s effort, Gwynedd got four points from Cameron, and two apiece from seniors Jessica Campbell and Tara Dingley and sophomore Mary Claire Casey. Junior Emily Sullivan added the final point for the Monarchs.
In addition to making progress toward team goals, MSJ’s Tacka noted “I’m working on getting my shot more consistent, because it’s kind of in-and-out. I’m also developing my pull-up, and working on a lot of other things.”
After breaking into the Mount’s starting line-up last winter just a few weeks into her ninth-grade season, she’s no longer ill-at-ease in that role.
“I’m a lot more comfortable this year,” the sophomore said. “I definitely have more confidence. As a freshman you come in and you’re kind of overwhelmed with everything. This year, I’m a lot more settled in, and that helps me play better.”
In the other AACA games at last Saturday’s showcase, St. Basil (9-2 in league play) defeated Sacred Heart (0-9), 55-7, Villa Maria (8-2) knocked off Villa Joseph Marie (3-8), 63-30, and Nazareth (2-8) topped Merion Mercy (5-5), 52-40.