Mount St. Joe senior Mary Kate Ulasewicz (right) eludes Nazareth’s Jackie Dollard during a Catholic Academies encounter last week. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Mount St. Joe senior Mary Kate Ulasewicz (right) eludes Nazareth’s Jackie Dollard during a Catholic Academies encounter last week. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

After suffering their first loss of the season on Saturday, December 13, the Mount St. Joseph Academy Magic responded well during the last week of competition before their Christmas break. Last Tuesday and Thursday, the Mount easily dispatched two Athletic Association of Catholic Academies rivals, going past the Pandas of Nazareth Academy, 46-31, and then beating traditional archrival Villa Maria, 61-30.

After a sluggish start in a non-league meeting with St. Hubert High on Saturday, the Magic charged back to win 60-39, and left for the holidays with an overall mark of 6-1 and a league record of 3-0.

Nazareth arrived on Tuesday with an overall record of 1-3 and an 0-2 mark within the AACA. A three-pointer by Becka Rhoades and a driving lay-up by Marissa Sylvester helped the visitors hang with the hosts through the first four minutes, with the Mount enjoying a 6-5 edge thanks to field goals from the paint by junior Libby Tacka and senior Emily Carpenter, and a jumper by junior Caitlyn Cunningham.

In the remainder of the quarter, the Pandas were only able to add a lone free throw by Jackie Dollard while the Mount bolted to an 18-6 advantage by the end of the first eight minutes. A short pull-up jumper by senior Mary Kate Ulasewicz and three-pointers by Cunningham and 11th-grade classmate Sarah Wills helped the Magic boost the lead into double figures, where it would remain for the rest of the game.

By halftime, when the tally was 28-13, the Magic had six different players marked down for four points or more. Mount St. Joe got to air out the rest of its bench in the second half. After the third quarter ended with the Magic up by 23 (43-20), Nazareth made some headway against the MSJ reserves in the final quarter, trimming the lead to 15 points by the final horn.

Tacka had seven rebounds to go with her team-high 13 points, while Cunningham had nine points and four steals, and Ulasewicz logged four points, six rebounds, and two steals. Carpenter finished with six points and Wills with five, while junior Kristen Lucas came off the bench to score two points and pull down a team-high eight rebounds.

Sophomore reserve Julie Hoover had scored all of her four points in the first half, and after the intermission the Magic got two points from sophomore Grace Gelone (a Norwood Fontbonne Academy graduate) and one from junior Jen Murphy. Nazareth’s Sylvester scored nine of her game-high 15 points in the fourth quarter.

The Magic’s first loss of the season had occurred three days earlier at Rustin High School in West Chester. There, the Magic fell victim to a big fourth-quarter rally by the Golden Knights, who won 51-46.

“We were leading most of the game, and for most of the game I thought we did a good job limiting their stronger players,” MSJ mentor John Miller said. “Their zone pressure was very aggressive, and I’ve always taught my teams that the more aggressive the other team’s press is, the more we should look to score. That was one thing I thought we didn’t do well; we were just sort of content to get the ball up the floor. If you don’t score lay-ups at the other end against zone pressure, there’s no reason for the other team to take it off.”

In an early league game last December, Villa Maria handed the Mounties their only loss of the 2013-14 season within the AACA. Both teams were impacted by graduation last spring, but the Mount appears to have weathered those losses better than the Hurricanes.

After taking a 15-6 lead during the opening quarter last Thursday, the Mounties had their lead comfortably into double digits by halftime, when they led by 15 points at 25-10. Widening the gap by another 10 points during a 17-7 third quarter, the Magic cruised home while making liberal use of their reserves, still managing to outscore their guests in the fourth period.

Four of the seven scorers for the victors finished in double figures, starting with Cunningham and Wills, with 15 and 13 points, respectively. The Magic received 10 points each from Ulasewicz (six steals, four assists, four rebounds) and Tacka, while Lucas combined eight points with a team-high nine rebounds. Rounding out the total were three points from Hoover and two from Murphy. Villa Maria (1-2 AACA, 2-3 overall) was paced by a pair of six-point performances by junior Marielle Pininich and her sophomore sister, Marissa.

The Magic’s opponent on Saturday, St. Hubert, hadn’t gotten off to a strong start on the season, but the Northeast Philly ball club certainly began well in the contest at the Mount. Pressuring the ball defensively up and down the court and going to the hoop aggressively on the offensive end, the Bambies blended inside and outside scoring to build up a 14-0 advantage over the first four minutes.

The scoreboard rested there, until with 1:50 remaining the Magic finally erased the zero from the “home” side, as Cunningham released the ball from the right baseline and saw it take a bounce on the rim before dropping through. Wills found the target on a three-point attempt, and later Lucas put in a lay-up, helping the hosts finish the quarter eight points behind, at 16-8.

St. Hubert kept its lead around eight points until the score reached 23-15 midway through the second period. After that, a converted rebound by Wills touched off a 12-0 MSJ run to finish out the half. Once a transition lay-up by Tacka had tightened the score to 23-19, Lucas tied the contest with a baseline jumper and a score in transition. The junior forward then put away a pair of free throws, moving the Magic ahead for good with 1:42 remaining in the half.

In the final seconds, Ulasewicz drove the lane to give the hosts a 27-23 edge at the intermission. When play resumed, St. Hubert did not manage to score a field goal until the final minute of the third quarter. Five different Mounties found the basket as the Magic outscored the Bambies 18-5 during the period. From there, Mount St. Joe cruised to the final horn.

Continuing to make a key contribution off the bench, Lucas came away with a team-high 14 points, while collecting six rebounds and four steals. She was not the Magic’s top rebounder on this occasion though. Instead a guard, Cunningham, led the squad with 10 grabs off the glass. She pocketed four steals, and she and Tacka each scored 13 points.

Ulasewicz was close to double figures, finishing with nine, while Wills recorded seven points and Carpenter and Hoover had two apiece.