by Tom Utescher
When a basketball team produces just two points in a span of more than 12 minutes – almost 40 percent of a regulation high school game – it’s usually destined for defeat.
Host Springside Chestnut Hill Academy managed to avoid that fate last Friday, outscoring visiting Academy of Notre Dame 22-6 over the final dozen minutes to win their Inter-Ac encounter, 37-32. The Blue Devils, who managed just a single lay-up on offense from late in the first period until the middle of the third quarter, improved to 4-5 in league play and 7-10 overall, while the Irish left Chestnut Hill at 5-4, 7-14.
Junior guard Caroline Henry led SCH with 11 points, and none were more important than the four she scored in the pivotal final quarter, when she came up with two steals against the Irish and converted both of them into lay-ups.
Senior point guard Julia Schumacher kept the Blue Devils disciplined while registering six points and five assists, and sophomore Lindsay Hiner scored eight points, with two three-pointers. The winners also received five points apiece from two forwards, senior Madi Sehn (five rebounds) and freshman Chloe Burns (nine rebounds), who had two of their former coaches from Norwood Fontbonne Academy watching them from the stands.
Talking about Henry, first-year SCH coach Joe Maguire noted, “She had been starting most of the season, but we changed our starting line-up a few games ago. She responded well and she’s played hard coming off the bench. We have the same situation with Madi Sehn, and she also handled it well, so I give credit to both of them for being real team players.”
While the Blue Devils had been able to fit in both of their league games the previous week, despite the downtime for “snow days,” they had been forced to play without an ailing Hiner, a starter since her freshman year. SCH still managed to post its second win of the winter against Baldwin School, but couldn’t accomplish the same goal against Agnes Irwin, falling 41-38 after overcoming the Owls back in December.
Combined with a 58-39 loss to Germantown Academy last Tuesday, the Devils dipped to two games under .500 in the league before the Notre Dame win.
Meanwhile, snow-outs in the middle of the month resulted in a busy schedule for the Irish last week. It started with non-league losses to Ursuline Academy (Wilmington, Del.) and Strath Haven, but a day before taking on SCH, Notre Dame competed a season sweep over Penn Charter, winning the rematch at PC, 54-49.
The three-point shot would figure prominently in the first half of Friday’s game, and the hosts’ Hiner started it off right away by striking from out on the left wing. Notre Dame, which had knocked off SCH at the beginning of the month, 43-32, quickly responded with its own perimeter projectiles from junior Sam Sacchetta and sophomore Alex Kane.
Henry and Sehn each hit a trey later in the opening round, but Notre Dame was not only scoring from distance, but also getting some inside production from sophomore center Rachel Ryan. The Irish edged ahead several times, but early in the final minute Schumacher scored in transition for the hosts to tie things up at 13-all.
After that, Springside Chestnut Hill found rocky going. Sacchetta closed the first quarter with a successful drive to put Notre Dame up 15-13, and Kane started the second frame with a triple from the top of the key. Then Essence Walden, a sophomore starter for SCH, converted one of her four rebounds in the game into a lay-up, but these would be the only two points her ballclub would score until well into the third quarter.
“Sometimes the girls catch the ball and think too much about the shot, and sort of hesitate,” Maguire commented. “We started to do better when we just were taking shots more instinctively.”
After Walden’s second-quarter basket got the hosts within three points at 18-15, Notre Dame scored a “three” and a short jumper over the last four minutes to lead 23-15 at the interlude. With a free throw and a lay-up early in the third round, the visitors’ lead peaked at 11 points, 26-15.
The thing that ultimately saved the locals was that during their offensive drought they still played solid defense, preventing the Irish from gaining an insurmountable advantage.
Making sure they had a like-sized player looking after Notre Dame’s Ryan (shutting her out in the second half), the Blue Devils frequently had all of their other players switch to different defenders whenever the Irish tried to set up screens and picks.
“We’d noticed that aside from their big girl, all of their other players were pretty similar, so most of our girls could cover most of their girls without any real mismatches for us in size and speed,” Maguire pointed out. “When we scouted them, we saw that they catch and shoot well and that they run a lot of sets with double screens, so if you can just switch everybody, it’s just easier.”
The Blue Devils had some trouble executing this defensive scheme during the first half, and fell behind.
“It’s something we don’t normally do, so we went over it again with the girls at halftime,” the SCH skipper said. “They did a lot better after that, and our defense kept us in it until we started to score again.”
The 13-2 Notre Dame run that extended through the middle of the game finally ended when Schumacher fed the ball inside to assist a lay-up by Henry just under four minutes into the third quarter. Henry then drove in for another bucket, and Hiner hit a three-pointer to make it 26-22, forcing a Notre Dame time-out with 3:05 remaining in the period.
The Irish came back out and got an inside score from Kane, but the quarter ended with successful drives by the Devils’ Sehn and Schumacher, getting the hosts within two points for the start of the final stanza, 28-26.
Springside Chestnut Hill began by missing a pair of lay-ups, then on a third try Schumacher was fouled and hit the first of two free throws. Next, the Blue Devils went into the lead for the first time since the opening minute of the game. Two steals and resulting breakaway baskets by Henry were sandwiched around a short jumper that Burns deposited off of an inbounds pass.
A little later, Sehn saved the ball from going out over the offensive baseline by scooping it back in to Burns. The freshman hit a lay-up that proved to be the last field goal of the day, putting the hosts ahead 35-28 with two minutes remaining.
The rest of the way, the Devils were able to hold off their guests despite netting only two of a possible eight points from the foul line (including one-and-one’s). The Irish also faltered in the stretch run, missing two foul shots right after Burns’ final bucket, and then turning the ball over several times.
Notre Dame’s Kane collected 11 points to share the game-high with Henry, and the Irish received eight points from Sacchetta and six from Ryan.
SCH would now set its sights on its rematch with Penn Charter, which beat the Blue Devils down on School House Lane in the first encounter. In that game, SCH led at halftime but then broke down, losing 43-37.
“The story of our season is not being able to put four good quarters together without some kind of lapse,” Maguire said. “Our defense has played pretty well most of the time, but on offense we’re still missing too many free throws and too many inside shots. Right now those are the things keeping us from getting where we want to be.”