Penn Charter sophomore Ayanna Matthews (center) goes up for a shot between Dylan Higgins (left) and Julianne Longen of Episcopal Academy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Penn Charter sophomore Ayanna Matthews (center) goes up for a shot between Dylan Higgins (left) and Julianne Longen of Episcopal Academy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

It was a major girls basketball confrontation within the Inter-Ac League, and for all practical purposes, it was over rather quickly.

Host Penn Charter only trailed the Episcopal Academy Churchwomen by an 11-10 count in the middle of the second quarter, but the Quakers would only produce five more points over the next dozen minutes. After leading 23-11 at halftime and 34-15 at the three-quarter mark, the visitors were able to simply trade points in the final stanza of a 49-30 victory.

Episcopal came in as the defending Inter-Ac and Pa. Independent Schools champion, brining a record of 6-0 in the league and 8-5 overall. Penn Charter was 15-2, 5-1, and had won 10 games in a row. The Quakers’ lone Inter-Ac setback, which came against Notre Dame back on December 13, had been viewed as a momentary lapse on the part of a very young team.

“We’re a better team than we showed today,” PC coach David Bass said after last Tuesday’s tilt. “We went away from the way we’ve played most of the year. We can’t hang our heads; we’ve got to regroup and get ready for the next one.”

Penn Charter’s primary scorers, sophomore guards Ayanna Matthews and Hannah Fox, combined for 21 points against EA, but 13 of those points came in the fourth quarter, after the Churchwomen had the game well in hand. Helping Episcopal set the tone early in the affair was sophomore guard Margaux Paolino, who registered three three-pointers and a breakaway lay-up over the first 14 minutes.

From last year’s powerhouse team, Episcopal graduated two savvy veteran guards, along with Inter-Ac MVP Megan Quinn, a 6’2” forward who is now playing at Villanova University. So how have the Churchwomen managed to preserve their position atop the league standings?

EA skipper Chuck Simmonds explained, “The girls who came back are good players in their own right, and they had goals for this year’s team, to continue to work hard and be successful, as in the past. It started with our senior captains, Sarah Abbonizio and Lexie Curry, who took a lot of pride in maintaining the winning mentality, in practice as well as games. The juniors also stepped up in their new roles, and the after awhile this team developed its own identity.”

Facing a PC squad that was on a roll, Simmonds said “Defense was the main thing. We had to reduce those two main threats (Fox and Matthews). We also wanted to rebound well and push the ball.”

In addition to the efforts of its older forwards, EA got a good performance on the boards from 6’1” freshman Elodie Furey. She and her colleagues in the front row made sure than many of Charter’s possessions were one-shot-and-done events. After grabbing those defensive rebounds, the Churchwomen were often able to make the quick outlet pass and create their own offense in transition.

“We didn’t play help defense very well, and we just needed to play more disciplined basketball,” remarked PC’s Bass. “We need to get more out of our offensive possessions, and part of that is better shot selection.

He added, “We’d been off for more than a week, because we lost some games last week due to the snow.”

Episcopal had been in action two days earlier in a multi-team invitational in Royersford, where the Churchwomen fell to St. Eiizabeth High School of Wilmington, Del., 47-34.

On Tuesday the visitors broke in front, 7-0, then freshman Mireyah Davis got the Quakers on the board with a free throw, and a jumper by Matthews and a three-pointer by senior Kristina Kubach followed. The Churchwomen led by three points at the quarter, and soon they upped their advantage to 11-6 with Paolino’s fast-break bucket.

Charter drew back within one point, 11-10, thanks to lay-ups by Matthews and junior forward Nicolette Napoleon (who was just returning from an injury). For PC fans, things went downhill rapidly after that. A score from the paint by Abbonizio with 3:47 left in the half touched off a 14-0 EA run that bridged the second and third quarters.

In the third round, PC had nothing to show but two points on a baseline drive by Matthews until Fox deposited a pair of free throws with two seconds left in the period. Episcopal was able to coast home from there.

“We had contributions from a lot of different players today,” said Simmonds, who had nine scorers overall in the book.

Players from relatively deep on the EA bench were able to maintain the momentum established by the team’s first six or seven, and even the youngest players appeared poised and saw the floor well.

“The girls all get along, and the older girls have made the younger ones feel part of the team,” Simmonds observed. “They’re not afraid to shoot the open shot or take a risk, instead of just passing the ball to an older player. I think the seniors have created a good environment for the young players to grow.”

Paolino led the long list of EA scorers with her 11 first-half points, then came juniors Maria Kilcullen and Meghan Pickell, with eight and seven, respectively, and Abbonizio, with six points.

“Episcopal played with discipline, and they shot the ball well,” commented the Quakers’ Bass. “They’re a little bit older than us, and they’ve got some veteran leadership. They have girls who have been playing in Chuck’s system for awhile, and he had them well-prepared.”