by Tom Utescher
In last Tuesday’s Class AAAA second-round action, four girls’ basketball teams from District 1 advanced to the elite eight stage in the 2014 state championships, but the original number one seed for the district’s own tournament wasn’t among them.
That ballclub, Mount St. Joseph Academy, emerged from the District 1 playoffs as the third seed, then recorded a huge win over District 12 number three Cardinal O’Hara in the first round of the state tourney on March 7. In a second-round match-up last Tuesday, the Magic saw their season end with a 45-30 loss to the second seed out of District 3, Dover High School.
For the game, the Mounties travelled out to the eastern fringe of Pennsylvania Dutch country, playing at Garden Spot High School in New Holland, Pa. The Dover Eagles approached from the other direction, coming from the western outskirts of York.
The Magic trailed by as many as eight points late in the second quarter, but Villanova-bound senior Alex Louin, who scored all of her 13 points in the first half, helped bring the deficit down to a single point at the intermission, 20-19.
Seven-for-eight foul-shooting helped Dover put together an 11-0 run that used up most of the third quarter, and this time the Magic couldn’t catch up. Late in the third round sophomore Libby Tacka scored all of her five points in succession to make it a seven-point affair (31-24), but after that the Eagles pulled away again as Mount St. Joe appeared to wear down.
The Magic, who won their second straight Catholic Academies title this season and then reached the semifinals of the District 1 tourney, rang down the curtain on the 2013-’14 campaign with an overall record of 27-4.
Dover, an upset winner over 2013 state runner-up Cumberland Valley in the District 3 tournament semifinals, will have a rematch with CV, which knocked out District 12 champ Archbishop Carroll in another one of Tuesday’s round-of-16 contests.
The same night, District 3 champion Wilson West Lawn (which has several of Louin’s AAU club teammates on its roster) disappeared, losing by 10 points to Abington High School, the sixth-seed out of District 1. The other survivors from the district were North Penn, the champion, runner-up Spring-Ford (the defending state champion, which was playing without its best post player), and number four Bayard Rustin.
“When I saw our draw [for States], I knew there weren’t going to be any easy games,” said Mount coach John Miller. “We told the girls they would have to play well every time out.
“When I watched Dover on tape,” he said, “and I told my players that they reminded me of Cardinal O’Hara, where you had a standout guard and then the other four players who were kind of like the supporting cast. Defensively, we worked on some of the same things we used on O’Hara.”
O’Hara’s marquee player was Mia Farmer, who has signed with Division I George Washington University. For Dover, it was speedy 5’6” senior Alayah Hall who, according to the Eagles’ coaches, has received surprisingly little interest from college recruiters.
Both in District 1 and across the state this year, the quad-A class contained no truly dominant teams stocked with multiple star players, but there were many very capable teams. Consistency, solid contributions from the “supporting cast,” and that simple but elusive asset of being able to peak at the right time would be a key to continuing to play deep into March.
At the end, though, consistency wasn’t there for Mount St. Joe. In consecutive games against fairly similar opponents, the sum of the Magic’s margin of victory against O’Hara and margin of defeat against Dover added up to 51 points.
“The overriding factor,” Miller would say of the two state tourney games, “was we shot 65 percent [on field goal attempts] against O’Hara – and that was our highest shooting percentage of any game the entire year – and we only shot 22 percent against Dover, which was our lowest shooting percentage of the year.”
He explained, “You don’t want to generalize too much, but we seem to execute better against a man-to-man defense than a zone. Watching Dover on tape, they’ve played a 2-3 zone against everyone. In that zone against us, they cheated on Alex, which we also expected. We got some open shots for other players because of that, but those shots were mostly three-point shots. We’re capable of making three’s, but I don’t really consider us a three-point shooting team. The other way we might have gotten them to change their defense was to build a lead, but the only lead we had was right at the beginning of the game.”
That early edge came from a three-pointer by Louin 20 seconds into the affair. Hall opened the Eagles’ scoring with a drive to the hoop, which was not unexpected, but a little more surprising for the Mounties were the back-to-back three-pointers drilled by senior Megan Lokhaiser, daughter of Dover head coach Troy Lokhaiser. Later, Louin scored and added a free throw for the Magic, but they trailed 11-6 at the end of the first quarter.
Early in round two, the Mounties cut Dover’s lead to three points on two occasions, but with Hall netting six points, the Eagles owned a 20-12 advantage with two minutes to go until the intermission. The Magic needed a late spurt of offense, and were able to put one together.
Senior forward Colleen Steinmetz banked in a short shot for her second field goal of the quarter, then Louin scored from almost the same spot with 25 seconds to go. An offensive foul called on Dover gave the ball back to the Mount, and a three-point shot by Louin from near the top of the key entered the cylinder with one second showing, getting the Mounties back within a point of the leaders for halftime, 20-19.
Louin would not score again that evening, though. Hall had only two more points for the night, with 15, but divided her output almost evenly between the halves. This was still below the Dover senior’s average, and the thing that really kept the Mount off-balance was that different Eagles players stepped up at different times to contribute in a variety of ways.
After her two first-quarter treys, Lokhaiser (eight points total) didn’t score another field goal, but forward Marissa McMahon (eight points) gave Dover a couple baskets from the paint at important times.
Senior guard Maxine Herman, scoreless in the first half, came on for nine points in the final 10 minutes of the game. Combining for 22 rebounds on the night were Herman (10) and another 5’8” player, Lindsey Fowler (five points, 12 rebounds).
No one made a dent on the scoreboard through the first five minutes of the second half, as the count remained 20-19.
MSJ’s Miller said, “I thought that was actually a key period of the game, because we came up with three steals and came down the floor on breakaways. Unfortunately, we didn’t even get one shot off because we either threw the ball away or travelled, so instead of potentially going up 25-20, we stayed one point behind them until they started to score again. If we’d converted those three steals into baskets, the complexion of the game could’ve changed.”
Back-to-back fouls by the Magic (with 3:21 and 3:00 left in the third frame) sent Hall to the line to make three of four attempts, then Herman got going with a jumper from the left baseline. The Mount’s only offense in this 5-12 quarter came from Tacka, who bagged two free throws and then a three-pointer from the left flank, all in the final minute.
Already getting into the foul bonus, Dover recovered one point from the free throw line to end the third with a 32-24 lead. Over the first four-and-a-half minutes of the final period the Eagles received two points apiece from four different players to go up by 16, at 40-24. During this stretch the Mount went 0/4 at the foul line.
Some of the Magic players were getting into foul difficulties themselves, which caused them to play less aggressively than normal at both ends of the floor. Still, all five starters remained in the game until senior forward Carly Monzo departed with 47 seconds remaining, her final infraction sending Lokhaiser to the line to make a pair of free throws, giving Dover a 17-point lead.
The journalists who were on hand to report the doings of Dover were surprised that the Magic hadn’t used any reserve players up to this point, but that didn’t surprise anyone familiar with the Mount program.
Scoring the game’s final points off of an offensive rebound, MSJ’s Steinmetz was second among the Mount scorers, with eight points. Tacka finished with five, and Monzo with four.
Miller could think of contributing factors to account for the difference in the Mount’s performance against O’Hara and in the season-ending loss to Dover, but he couldn’t entirely explain it.
“Sometimes, there just seems to be no rhyme or reason,” he remarked. “You just shrug your shoulders and say “That’s basketball, that’s sports.”