SCH junior Essence Walden goes up for a shot against junior Nikki Williamson (#13) and senior Julia Mankoff (#23) of Germantown Friends. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

SCH junior Essence Walden goes up for a shot against junior Nikki Williamson (#13) and senior Julia Mankoff (#23) of Germantown Friends. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The scoreboard in Germantown Friends School’s Scattergood Gym went through some strange gyrations last Tuesday afternoon, when the Tigers’ girls basketball team hosted the Blue Devils of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.

For the first five minutes, the two ball clubs only put up a combined total of one point. Visiting SCH eventually got its offense rolling and the Devils looked like they were headed for any easy victory with three minutes to go in the first half, when they led 21-6.

After the Tigers trimmed their deficit back to seven points by halftime (21-14), SCH surged again and took a 12-point advantage into the fourth quarter. Germantown made another run late in the game, getting within six points before the Blue Devils locked up a 44-36 victory.

The non-league win raised Springside Chestnut Hill’s record to 3-0, while GFS leveled off at 2-2.

First-year SCH coach Tony Tucker said that after his squad built a double-digit lead in the second quarter, “The girls kind of dropped their guard a bit and relaxed. I told them once you do that, it helps the other team gain confidence. In the end, we reacted well when they came back at us, and we held onto the lead. That’s a positive thing that we can take away from this game.”

GFS also has a new head coach in Tiffany Davis.

After Tuesday’s game she remarked, “I’ve felt all along that we’re going to be a very competitive team. We came back because we’re strong and we got back to doing the things we were supposed to do – being in the right position, anticipating, and things like that.”

The previous week, GFS had won its season opener on the road, and then went 1-1 at its own weekend tournament [see story in 12/11 Local]. SCH, meanwhile, started its season by winning a tip-off tournament out at The Hill School in Pottstown.

The Blue Devils cruised through their opening game with Princeton Day School, winning 51-22 as junior Lindsay Hiner posted a game-high 16 points. In the tournament championship game on December 6, SCH had three scorers in double figures and another just one point away.

Junior guard Marissa Pownall paced the Devils with 15 points as the locals turned a 29-18 halftime lead into a 51-35 triumph. Hiner netted four three-pointers in a 13-point performance and was named tournament MVP. The winners also received two three-pointers and a total of 10 points from eighth-grader Mo’ne Davis, and nine points from eighth-grader Delaney Sweitzer, who drained one shot from beyond the arc.

“We had a great tournament; we played well and played aggressively,” Coach Tucker commented. “The team has made great strides in terms of discipline, and I’m also happy to see them playing with passion and really enjoying being on the court. We’re building one game at a time.”

When last Tuesday’s contest at GFS first got underway, a free throw by Tigers senior guard Imani Ross accounted for the only point on the board until SCH junior guard Essence Walden drove the lane for the game’s first field goal with 2:54 remaining in the opening quarter.

Hiner, senior Caroline Henry, and sophomore forward Chloe Burns each added a field goal, and two free throws by Walden also contributed to a 10-5 lead at the end of the first frame.

GFS had gotten a pair of lay-ups from forward Nikki Williams, and in the first five minutes of the second quarter a lone foul shot by the sophomore produced the only point scored by the Tigers. At the start of the period, sophomore forward Destini Curry became the fifth Blue Devil to score in the game.

Hiner hit two three-pointers from opposite sides of the court, added a free throw, and when Walden made a successful drive to the hoop with just over three minutes left in the half, the visitors led 21-6.

Germantown Friends was in danger of being truly buried by the break, but Ross wouldn’t let that happen. Fellow senior Schuyler Alig, a forward, made the first shot of a one-and-one during the Tigers’ late 8-0 run, but all the other points belonged to Ross, who scored on a drive and then off of a rebound, and finally arced in a three-point shot.

“Imani plays very tough defense, and that can help to get her going on the offensive end, too,” Coach Davis said. “She’s a senior, so I expect a lot out of her.”

Ross had led her squad back within seven points of the visitors by halftime, and in the huddle, Davis said that she told her Tigers “We’re in it; this game isn’t over. I told them to make sure we stayed in our press – we were doing it for a reason and we shouldn’t get distracted and drop out of it. We also have some players who are hesitant about shooting the ball, and I told them that everybody should be a threat.”

Springside Chestnut Hill’s Hiner hit a three-pointer from the right corner to open the second half, and when Curry displayed a nice spin move in the paint for a lay-up, GFS called time-out, now trailing 26-14. The Tigers halted their descent, but didn’t make any headway in the remainder of the period, which played out as an 8-8 draw. SCH took a 34-22 advantage into the final round.

This is when Germantown Friends, and Becker in particular, got down to business. Nothing happened for the first 90 seconds, but then in a three-minute span, the junior landed three-pointers from the left and right wing, nailed a shorter jumper, and scored on a drive. The Blue Devils had received a transition field goal from Walden and a pair of free throws from Hiner, but GFS was now just seven points back (38-31) with three-and-a-half minutes left to play.

After another GFS time-out, SCH inbounded the ball to Walden for a lay-up, then Germantown answered with a free throw by Ross and a 15-footer by Alig for a 40-34 tally. After the lead was bumped back up to seven points with a Sweitzer foul shot, Germantown came up empty on a one-and-one chance with 2:20 remaining in the game.

SCH then spread the floor on offense and took some time off the ticker. As the clock descended toward the final minute, Ross hit one of two foul shots for the Tigers, while SCH had a chance to net six points at the charity stripe (including second shots on one-and-one’s), but came away with none.

With half-a-minute remaining a three-point shot by the Tigers’ Becker wouldn’t fall, and at the other end Curry drew a foul and made one of her two tosses. Just over 10 seconds remained when Hiner passed the ball across midcourt to set up a breakaway bucket by Walden. This really iced the win, with the Blue Devils now ahead by nine points, 44-35.

SCH’s Henry had committed her third personal foul early in the third quarter, and she almost made it to the end of the game without an ejection. However, she committed her fifth infraction with just two-tenths of a second left in the contest, allowing Alig to score the final GFS point from the foul line.

“We’ve been talking about needing to maintain our mental toughness,” the Devils’ Tucker said afterwards. “We’d been doing that up to now, and this is the first time I’ve seen us back off a bit. It was a good lesson about what happens when you do that.”

The Tigers’ Davis summed up, “Of course I wanted to win, but this is still a game that we can build off of to keep getting stronger.”