by Tom Utescher
Last Tuesday, the final night of regular-season games in the NCAA women’s summer hoops league ended with half-a-dozen squads with win/loss records of 6-6 all vying for the last four spots in the eight-team championship tournament.
Players with local connections were on three of those ballclubs, and after a complex tiebreaking procedure, all of them learned that they would be participating in the playoff quarterfinals on Thursday. There they made the most of the opportunity; Team Black, Team Kelly Green and Team Maroon all won, moving on to the semifinals with at least one of the teams assured of a trip to the championship game this Thursday.
Last Tuesday, the hoopsters from Philadelphia University that have been dubbed Team Black actually backed into a 6-6 mark by losing in their regular-season finale. However, this outfit, which includes GA grad Monica Schacker and Mount St. Joseph alum Kelsey Jones, received the fifth seed for the playoffs due to their regular-season success against the other teams with an identical record.
Springside Chestnut Hill alumnae Elana Roadcloud and Michelle Boggs are part of Team Maroon, which had a bye on Tuesday. They had already completed their regular season slate at 6-6, and when the seedings were sorted out, they settled in at number six.
A Kelly Green team with Mount St. Joe links, including 2014 Catholic Academies MVP Alex Louin, climbed up to the 6-6 level by winning its last three regular-season bouts, including a 54-50 barnburner against Team Orange on Tuesday. Kelly collected the seventh seed, and Orange was still able to squeak into the quarterfinals with the eighth seed.
The two 6-6 squads who were left out were Team Pink, which is made up entirely of University of the Sciences players, and Team Purple, with half of its roster hailing from the University of Scranton.
The top four seeds went to Team Gold at 11-1, Team White (West Chester University) at 10-2, and Sky Blue and Hunter Green. The last two each finished 7-5, but Sky had beaten Hunter head-to-head in late July.
In the early round of games on Tuesday, two teams forfeited, and in the only contest actually decided on the court, Team Sky Blue clinched the third seed for the playoffs by topping Navy Blue, 82-65. On the middle court in the late game, top-seeded Gold easily overran Team Red (which had already been eliminated from playoff contention), 82-44. Gold was actually missing a number of talented players, but received a 33-point effort from Ashley Wood, a graduate of Spring-Ford High School and Kutztown University (’14).
Also dealing with a number of gaps in its regular roster, Team Black hung in gamely with favored Team White into the early minutes of the second half. The White (West Chester) squad first gained a double-digit advantage (23-12) with seven minutes left in the first half, but Black clawed its way back to within four points before a pair of late three-pointers put White up by 10 at the half, 33-23.
The Philly U. stand-in fought back to within just two points of the leaders (36-34) five minutes into the second half, but White engineered an 11-2 run over the next five-minute segment, and Team Black never got as close again. The final reckoning was 67-53, with a game-high 23 points scored by Team Black guard Najah Jacobs, a Central High School product.
GA’s Schacker was not on hand for Team Black, while MSJ’s Jones distributed the ball and chipped in with a free throw. A balanced Team White offense featured four scorers in double figures.
Attendance tends to dwindle for many teams once August arrives, and Tuesday’s clash between Kelly Green and Orange developed into a battle of endurance. While Kelly had one sub available, Orange had none, but their quintet included two starters from Penn’s 2014 Ivy League champion team and a power forward from St. Joseph’s. Kelly had a reserve at the guard spot, but had to find ways to conserve the energy of its only true post player, Cardinal O’Hara grad Maureen Leahy (Bryant U.).
Louin, a six-foot guard, was able to help out with the rebounding chores while a much smaller back court player, Mackenzie Rule (Cardinal O’Hara/St. Joseph’s) snuck inside to snare loose ball rebounds.
The offenses were ineffective at first; an early three-pointer had Orange still holding a 3-2 lead six minutes into the action. Later, a 10-point Kelly lead at 22-12 turned out to be a singular occurrence as Orange battled back. After Louin’s lay-up off an inbounds play at the baseline with three seconds to go, her team owned a 27-19 lead at halftime.
Orange rang up the first seven points of the second half and soon pulled even at 28-all. After that, the largest divide between the teams came with 9:16 to go, when Kelly went into a time-out up 45-40. Kelly was able to rest Leahy for the next few minutes and still maintain a slim lead.
The Green group was up 51-50 as the clock clicked into the final minute. Former North Penn shooting guard Vicky Tumasz (Shippensburg U.) targeted her fourth three-pointer of the night to give Kelly Green a little breathing room at 54-50, and that’s where the scoreboard came to rest.
Tumasz finished with 12 points and Leahy put up a team-high 14, while Spring-Ford grad Courtney Hinnant (Millersville U. ’17) scored nine. Julie Hahn, a former Central Bucks South guard who graduated from Alvernia College two years ago, posted seven points, and there were six points apiece for Louin and Rule. Rising Penn senior Kara Bonenberger led Orange with 14 points, and the other two Division I players on the squad each scored a dozen.
In one of the two early quarterfinal contests on Thursday, Maroon and Team Sky Blue went through much of the first half neck-and-neck. A lay-up by former Springsider Boggs knotted the score at 19-all with three minutes remaining in the first period, but by halftime, Sky Blue had edged ahead, 25-22.
Their momentum carried over into the second half; with 12:25 left on the clock Sky Blue was holding a 10-point advantage, 43-33. After that, though, there would be a 20-point turnaround. Maroon pulled even at 51-all with a little over four minutes left and then really picked it up for the stretch run, winning 69-59 by sticking some three-pointers and then having their guards play a saavy ball possession game.
Ryann Fiascki, who plays at East Stroudsburg University along with Boggs, led the winners with 17 points, while Roadcloud and former Upper Dublin High School guard Taylor Bryant added nine points apiece.
On the other court, short-staffed Orange was granted a delay by league commissioner David Kessler, and after Penn players Bonenberger and Kathleen Roche arrived from a team meeting downtown (the U. of P. squad leaves for Italy this week), the eighth seed took the court against number one Gold.
Gold galloped to a 40-21 halftime lead, and after Orange made a late run to close within seven points, Gold took an 81-69 victory thanks to four double-digit scorers.
Team Black chose a fitting occasion to ramp up its performance, knocking off a Hunter Green group with several strong Division I players. Black built up a 36-22 lead by halftime, and as late as the 7:30 mark (remaining), they still had a comfy double-digit lead at 52-38.
Led by St. Joseph University forward Sarah Fairbanks, who scored 35 points in one regular-season contest this summer, Hunter rallied impressively in the closing minutes, but Black survived the challenge and prevailed, 58-54. As usual Jacobs was the high scorer, with 24 points, and a new arrival from Archbishop Wood, Jess Kaminski, added 10. The Philly U. women were able to hold Fairbanks to a relatively modest 21-point output, and this was certainly a factor in their success.
In the very first night of the regular season this year, Team White pounded Kelly Green, 99-49. Due to some NCAA red tape, Kelly had not been able to play any of the Division I athletes on its roster. Team White (alias West Chester) went on to have the best regular-season record (10-2) of any of the Division II franchises in the league, while Kelly, which started out 0-3 with a pair of forfeit losses, gradually climbed back into playoff contention.
Former Inter-Ac League MVP and current Villanova forward Meg Quinn had been Kelly Green’s high scorer in several key games along the road back to relevance, but she was out of town for both of last week’s games. At the same time, Team White had two starters taking shore leave, forward Kendall Benovy and guard Brittany Sicinski.
Despite Quinn’s absence, Kelly coach Ted Hagedorn (a three-time Mount St. Joseph parent) had three subs to work with, as opposed to just one on Tuesday. Leahy still had to carry a lot of the load down on the blocks, and once again she played very well.
MSJ alum Louin broke the ice with a transition lay-up, and a bit later, when she hit the first of her three three-point field goals, Team White called time-out, down 14-5 seven-and-a-half minutes into the action.
Over the next four minutes, White trimmed its deficit back to six points, then Kelly’s Leahy scored off a rebound and 2014 Spring-Ford grad Shelby Mueller (Lycoming College) hit a transition lay-up to make it a 10-point affair (22-12) with seven minutes to go until the intermission. Team White got back within seven, but at the break Kelly Green was up by 10 once more, 32-22. All eight of Kelly’s players had scored, with Louin (10) and Leahy (eight) leading the list.
Lexi Scrivano, teammate of Hinnant’s at Millersville, bagged a three-pointer to start the second half for Kelly Green, and when Leahy made a free throw and then hit a short baseline hook shot, Team White found itself trailing by 16 points at 38-22.
Later, another trey was added by Louin, and Tumasz (nine points total) tabbed two of her three triples in the second period. White would never get back in the game. Louin’s final field goal of the night stretched the gap to 23 points (58-35) before the West Chester cadre scored eight of the last 10 points of the game. The former Mountie ended up with 17 points and Leahy had a game-high 19.
This Tuesday Kelly Green, the lowest seed of the four semifinalists, meets Team Gold, while Black squares off against Maroon.