by Tom Utescher
The women of Chestnut Hill College began their 2014-15 basketball season with three losses on the road, but for the ailing Griffins, the cure was as simple as coming home.
Last Thursday evening in the friendly confines of Sorgenti Arena, CHC took down previously unbeaten Mercy College (3-1) in a decisive manner, 67-49. After building a 33-25 halftime lead over their guests from Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., the Griffins went up by as many as 23 points late in the second period.
The gradual accumulation of experience by the young Chestnut Hill squad contributed to the recent turnaround. The starting line-up includes two seniors, shooting guard and returning high-scorer Olivia Gorczynski, and speedy point guard Shayla Felder, a Cheltenham High School graduate. However, there were also three freshmen in the first five when the Griffins made their home debut last week.
One of them, 5’9” guard Nina Mazzarelli from West Chester East High School, emerged as the high scorer in the win over Mercy, lobbing in four three-pointers and totaling 17 points along with four rebounds. Gorczynski hit three “three’s,” and finished with 13 points, three rebounds and two assists, while Felder recorded 10 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“It’s important for us to have Nina on the floor with Liv [Gorczynski],” pointed out fourth-year CHC head coach Laura Pruitt. “Liv is probably going to be face-guarded the whole year, so we need another kid making shots.”
The freshman can help take some defensive pressure off of Gorczynski, who led the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference in “made” three-pointers last winter. The other two rookies in the Griffins’ starting line-up are both 6’1” forwards, Brianne Morgera and Nicole Parriski.
“Bri’s high school team won their state championship in Rhode Island last year,” Pruitt related. “She has a father who’s a football coach and a couple of brothers, so she grew up playing against them. Nicole went to Life Center Academy, and the other four starters on her team all signed with major Division I programs. So they may be freshmen, but they have a lot of experience playing with very good players and against very good players.”
In last week’s home opener the Griffins got eight points, six rebounds, and four assists from Parriski, and six points and a team-high nine boards and three blocks from Morgera.
Mercy scored the opening field goal, but only added a free throw over the first three minutes as CHC charged to a 9-3 lead. Mazzarelli quickly erased the Mavericks’ initial lead with a three-pointer from the right wing. She then tacked on a free throw and another three-ball in the Griffins’ opening burst, with Morgera tallying on a put-back of her own shot for the other two points.
The two freshmen continued to produce at the offensive end, with Parriski joining in. Mercy was forced to call a time-out when Chestnut Hill’s lead rose into double digits (25-15) on a put-back by Parriski with 8:08 left in the half.
The tallest player on the court, at 6’4”, was the Mavericks’ Brandone Roberts, a senior who had transferred to Mercy out of a school in CHC’s conference, Nyack College. She began to use her height to rebound and score when Mercy returned to the floor, and she and guard Tatiana Parish got the visitors back within two points of the leaders, 27-25, with under four minutes to go in the opening period.
The Griffins had seen leads disappear in a similar manner during several of their early road games; now they needed to respond to the challenge to avoid another “L.” They rose to the occasion in front of their home crowd, toughening up on defense, and on the glass at both ends.
“In our first three games, I thought we got bullied on the boards,” Pruitt related. “In practice yesterday we worked on rebounding out of the zone, and it was good to see us start to do that tonight.”
Felder scored a quick bucket on an inbounds play to get the hosts’ offense moving again. In the last minute-and-a-half, Morgera made good on a follow and Mazzarelli put in a fast-break bucket to finish the period with 14 points as the scoreboard came to rest at 33-25.
When Mercy made its run late in the half, Pruitt had been able to get her young club to refocus.
“We ran some set plays after we came up empty a couple of times, and that helped settle us down,” she revealed.
Mazzarelli would collect her game-high 17 points while playing for only 22 minutes. Sharing time in the backcourt were senior veteran Tenisha Townsend-Mobley (a team tri-captain along with Felder and Gorczynski), and a freshman familiar to Germantown Friends hoopsters, former Abington Friends point guard Bianca Adams.
With the gap still in single digits as the second period began, the Mavericks had to be looking to reduce their deficit at the outset, but the Griffins weren’t having it. Mazzarelli didn’t miss a beat, completing her night’s total by sticking a triple to launch the new half. CHC field goals by Parriski and Felder were sandwiched around a lone Mercy bucket, and when Gorczynski thrust the ball ahead to Adams for a transition lay-up, the visitors had to huddle up again, now down 42-27 with 16:20 remaining.
In the middle of the period, the Mavericks stopped their precipitous slide, but they never really got back in contention for the lead. They had the spread down to nine points (50-41) with just under nine minutes left, but Chestnut Hill responded with one lay-up by Felder and two by Townsend-Mobley, jacking the lead back up to 15.
Mazzarelli had mocked the Mavs’ perimeter defense early in the game, and in the second half Gorczynski stepped up, netting all but two of her points for the night (including her three three-pointers) after the intermission.
Capping the hosts’ scoring for the night, freshman guard Chelsea Houlihan hit a lay-up with 90 seconds to go, lifting the lead to 23 points (67-44) before the visitors scavenged the final five of the evening.
It was a very encouraging showing for a program that has had its struggles, with an overall record of 14-38 over the past two seasons.
“This is a team that needs to develop a relationship with winning,” Pruitt said. “We told them after the game that we were not only proud that we won, but that we won the right way, playing hard, and playing together.”