by Tom Utescher
Last Wednesday’s basketball bout matching Penn Charter with visiting Germantown Academy was already charged with the energy generated by the traditional rivalry between the two schools, and as the Inter-Ac League season was getting underway, it was also one of the first contests in which bona fide title contenders were squaring off.
Scoring 10 of her game-high 18 points in the opening period, GA junior forward Lauren Oeth helped launch the Patriots toward an 18-7 lead by the end of the first quarter.
The Quakers got the lead down to seven points early in the third quarter, but Oeth and GA senior guard Olivia Gorman, who scored 11 of her 15 points after halftime, led the Pats back to a double digit advantage. Oeth produced a second game-high stat, with nine rebounds for the afternoon.
The final 53-33 decision in favor of the visitors evened up Germantown’s overall record at 2-2 while Charter slipped to 4-3. Junior guard Ayanna Matthews led PC with 12 points, with her classmate and back court companion Hannah Fox adding nine.
The game was the Inter-Ac season opener for the Patriots, while the Quakers had started league play the previous Friday, winning at Baldwin School. Prior to their Wednesday meeting, each team had suffered its two losses while playing solid out-of-state opponents.
Veteran GA head coach Sherri Retif said that the Patriots’ trip to a tourney in Baltimore was a good bonding experience for her relatively young ball club (Gorman is the only senior), with half-a-dozen freshmen coming along for the ride.
“We don’t look at wins and losses so much in situations like that,” she explained. “We play those good teams in order to prepare ourselves for our league games. I think we took away from it the fact that we had to play better defense – move our feet and keep the ball in front of us. Today [against PC] we did a great job containing their perimeter play, and the post players did a good job on the help-side defense.”
One of Retif’s former protégés was serving as acting head coach for Penn Charter. Assistant Laura Kurz, who went on from Germantown Academy to play at Duke and Villanova, was filling in for an absent Jim Powers, the team’s regular skipper.
“We played against a talented, well-coached team,” Kurz noted. “That being said, I thought we didn’t look like ourselves in that we gave up a lot of second-chance points and we’d didn’t communicate well on the defensive end. I take some responsibility for that, and I think the players were having to adjust to me being the head coach for this game.”
Part of Penn Charter’s sub-par rebounding effort could be attributed some personnel difficulties at the forward position. The team’s lone senior starter, Nicolette Napoleon, had been out of action due to a concussion. She had only been cleared to practice and play a day earlier, and obviously was not back in her regular form.
On defense, GA opponents are likely to focus on stopping the guards, such as Gorman and juniors Kendall Grasela and Erin Lindahl. However, it was Oeth, a 5’11” forward, who set the offensive tone for the Patriots right from the outset last Wednesday. She drove for the game’s first field goal, then added another lay-up in the second minute. PC’s Napoleon, who had not started, now entered the game, and after Gorman added a foul shot for a 5-0 GA lead, a free throw and foul shot by Matthews got the Quakers on the board with two-and-a-half minutes elapsed.
Gorman came back with an old-style three-point play of her own, then lay-ups by Matthews and Fox got Charter back within a point of the leaders at 8-7. With 3:08 left in the first period, the Patriots began a significant five-minute spree, outscoring their hosts 14-0.
Oeth started it off with an “and-one” play of her own, then added insult to injury by stepping back to nail a three-pointer from the left wing. Sophomore guard Abby Starzecky popped in a short jumper, then Grasela ended the first quarter with a lay-up and began the second with a soaring scoop shot. Lilly Bolen, a 5’11” sophomore guard, went to the hoop to give the Pats a 22-7 advantage with 5:58 left in the half.
PC battled back gamely at first, but never fully recovered. Into the foul bonus early in the second period, the Quakers had Hnatkowski sink one shot from the stripe and later Matthews drained a pair. In between, Fox knocked down an extra-long “three,” so the hosts had the gap back down in single digits, 22-13, with a few minutes still left in the second round.
While GA had a number of early team fouls, nobody had more than one personal other than Bolen, the reserve guard. The Quakers, on the other hand, had starting sophomore forward Mireyah Davis pick up her third foul just over ten minutes into the game. As a result, her restricted playing time became another factor in PC’s problems on the glass.
The Quakers’ 6-0 spurt in the middle of the second period was ended by a lay-up from six-foot freshman forward Alexa Naessens.
Overall, GA’s Retif was encouraged by the play of her substitutes.
“I was pleased with the performance of our bench players,” she said. “They came in and were a steady source of offense and defense, and there was no drop-off.”
Two Oeth free throws and a three-pointers by PC’s scrappy Hnatkowski ended the first half with a ten-point gap on the scoreboard, as GA led, 26-16.
PC’s Fox, a junior who began playing varsity basketball in the eighth grade, had entered the game needing to score 16 points to hit the 1000-point mark for her high school career. While unaware of the impending milestone, she had trimmed five points off that figure in the first half, and when she opened the second half by grabbing the rebound of her own miss and putting in a reverse lay-up, four figures seemed within reach that afternoon.
However, the diminutive junior figured prominently in GA’s defensive game plan. Unchecked, her prowess from three-point range could erase her team’s deficit (now eight points) very quickly, but the Patriots clamped down and allowed her just one more field goal, a lay-up on a fourth-quarter inbounds play. Altogether, the Quakers would score only 15 points in the last 15 minutes of the contest.
Coach Kurz confessed, “They did a good job on defense, and we just never seemed comfortable out there.”
Fox’s opening lay-up in the third quarter was answered in kind by GA’s Gorman, then Hnatkowski sank her second three-pointer of the game for Penn Charter to make it a seven-point game at 28-21. Two buckets apiece by Gorman and Oeth allowed GA to outscore Charter 8-3 in the remainder of the third round.
The Pats began the final quarter with a 36-24 lead, and they immediately received a “three” from Lindahl out on the right wing. GA increased its advantage to 20-points, and after PC’s Napoleon extracted both points from a one-and-one and Matthews scored on a drive to get the margin down to 16, the Patriots began to slow down their offense. Germantown closed out the final two minutes of the game with an 8-3 flourish, scoring six of those points on eight free throws. Gorman was seven-for-ten from the line overall.
Backing up double-digit scorers Gorman and Oeth were Lindahl (four rebounds) with five points, Grasela (four rebounds) and Naessens with four points apiece, Bolen with three points, and Starzecky with two. Following Matthews and Fox in Charter’s scoring column were Hnatkowski with seven points, Davis and Napoleon with two points each, and freshman guard Grace Stansfield with one.
It was a sobering early loss in the league for Penn Charter, but as Kurz observed, “We just have to move on and get better. We have no choice, because we’ve got a tough schedule ahead of us.”