Wearing a protective facemask after suffering a broken nose, Penn Charter sophomore Mireyah Davis wasn’t shying away from contact last Friday as she battled for a rebound with Baldwin’s Alex Brittingham. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Wearing a protective facemask after suffering a broken nose, Penn Charter sophomore Mireyah Davis wasn’t shying away from contact last Friday as she battled for a rebound with Baldwin’s Alex Brittingham. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

It was by no means a masterpiece, but last Friday’s hoops contest still produced another “W” for Penn Charter, which topped host Baldwin School last Friday, 36-20, in a game that was the Inter-Ac League season opener for both schools.

The Quakers, who scored the first eight points of the afternoon and led 15-2 at the end of the opening quarter, pushed their record above the .500 mark to 3-2, suffering both of their losses against out-of-state teams at a tournament in New Jersey. Charter juniors Ayanna Matthews and Hannah Fox, both guards who been varsity regulars since they were in eighth grade, led Charter over Baldwin as they put up 16 and 12 points, respectively. Six points from sophomore guard Alexis Hnatkowski and two from junior forward Taylor Zahairagunn rounded out the scoring for the visitors, while Baldwin (1-2) had junior guard Radiyana Mancheva score seven of her team-high nine points in the second half.

Both ball clubs had a player sidelined due to concussion protocols; PC was sitting senior Nicolette Napoleon, normally a starting power forward.

Referring to Davis, Hanatkowski, and forward Julie Webb, first-year head coach Jim Powers pointed out, “We’re starting three sophomores now, and they’re continuing to learn. We have a tough schedule, so there are a lot of good lessons out there for them.”

Last week, the schedule for both PC and Baldwin included games against the Shipley School Gators, the defending Pennsylvania Independent Schools champion. The Quakers proved up to the challenge on Tuesday, winning at home by a score of 56-43 as Matthews led the way with a game-high 18 points. Fox chalked up 14 points and Davis and Hnatkowski each scored 11 in the important early-season victory.

Baldwin School is rebuilding this year under new head coach Danny Fraider, a former Inter-Ac standout at the Academy of Notre Dame who is the daughter of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy girls’ athletic director Tina O’Malley. Last Thursday, the Bears gave a good account of themselves against neighboring Shipley, but despite 14 points from 6’4” junior center Danielle Hammond, Baldwin was edged out by the visiting Gators, 42-38.

Following that challenging contest, Baldwin had to make its Inter-Ac debut against Charter the next day.

“It’s hard to go from a game like that right into your league opener,” Fraider observed after Friday’s meeting with PC. “Our defense was pretty solid after the first quarter, but our shots were not falling.”

Penn Charter’s Powers had observed some of the Baldwin-Shipley encounter on Thursday.

“I saw that Baldwin did a good job with offensive rebounding,” reported Powers, “so we knew we needed to keep them off the glass as much as we could. We don’t have the tallest line-up around, but we’ve been doing a pretty good job of defending against bigger teams. We limited Baldwin’s second and third chances today, and we kept their big girl pretty much under control.”

After laying 14 points on Shipley in Thursday’s game, the Bears’ Hammond was held to five against PC, all of them coming in the second quarter.

In the opening minute of the game, the Quakers’ Matthews scored off a rebound and Hnatkowski drained a jumper from just inside the foul line. Matthews soon added a pair of free throws, and when Fox snatched a rebound and scooted under the hoop for a reverse lay-up, Baldwin called time-out, down 8-0 with 5:16 still to go in the first period. The Quakers’ initial attempts to use their quickness to overcome the Bears’ size advantage on the boards had been successful.

When play resumed, three more minutes went by before Baldwin got on the board through a drive by Mancheva, but that proved to be her only field goal of the first half, and the Bears would not score again in the opening quarter. A Davis free throw and a three-pointer launched by Fox from the top of the key pushed PC’s lead into double digits, and with 19 seconds left Matthews made good on a old-fashioned three-point play to set the score at 15-2.

“In the long run, we just couldn’t dig out of that hole,” Baldwin’s Fraider said. “Our rebounding wasn’t as good as it was in our other games, and when we started to get into foul trouble, that really hurt us because we don’t have the numbers that other teams do.”

PC actually accumulated more personal fouls than Baldwin during the first half, but that situation was reversed after the intermission. The whistles still had an effect on the Quakers, though, and Powers shifted them from a man-to-man defense into a zone.

On the offensive end, PC’s scoring dropped off dramatically in the second quarter, when the visitors managed just three points. Some of the smaller Quakers insisted on driving straight at Baldwin’s 6’4” Hammond, with predictable results.

The big post player swatted away several shots and altered a number of others. In addition, she deposited all of her five points for the day during the second stanza, and this, along with two free throws by junior forward Kayla Watkins, trimmed the lead back to single figures for halftime, 18-9.

“We ran into a tough stretch,” Powers admitted. “I thought we got good looks – we just couldn’t get the ball to drop. Baldwin turned it up a little on the defensive end, and we also just had some kids missing shots that they usually make.”

In the third quarter, as in the second, the scoreboard moved at a leisurely pace. Each team fouled at the outset, and it was the fourth infraction for PC’s Webb. After that, short jumpers by the Quakers’ Fox and Matthews were balanced by field goals by Mancheva and fellow junior Kayla Watkins for the Bears. Watkins would pick up her fourth foul later on, and in the final minute Penn Charter “won” the period, 6-4, when Hnatkowski stuck a jumper from the right end of the foul line.

Over the first five minutes of the fourth period, a lay-up and a trey by Mancheva and a converted rebound by junior guard Imani Brown brought Baldwin’s deficit back down to nine points, where it had been at halftime. Fox had fired in a long three-pointer while Hnatkowsky chipped in with two free throws during this stretch as the tally rose to 29-20.

The Bears would not score again, and they put PC into the foul double-bonus with 2:27 to go, when Matthews made the first of her two tosses. Brown fouled out for the hosts with 1:51 showing and Fox cashed in for two points, then Matthews acquired her last four points during the final minute, sinking two free throws and a 15-foot jumper.

Supplementing the scoring of Baldwin’s Mancheva and Hammond were Watkins, with four points, and Brown, with two.

“The players are still getting used to me as a new coach,” Fraider noted. “It takes some adjustment as we try to change some old habits into new, better habits. Our goal right now is to improve every single day.”

While the Bears’ mentor is new to the school, PC’s Powers had been an assistant coach for the Quakers for four years before taking over the helm this season.

Asked about the strengths of this year’s squad, he said, “On defense, I think we’re versatile enough to play the style we need to play in a given situation. We want to be aggressive on the offensive end because we have kids who can score. We’re not as fluid as we want to be; that’s something that we’ve got to work on.”