by Tom Utescher
The GA girls completed the second phase of their holiday basketball schedule last weekend, finishing first in their own Germantown Academy Holiday Classic by defeating Allentown’s Dieruff High School in a Saturday semifinal, 65-43, and then turning back Pope John Paul II High School in Sunday’s championship game, 47-22.
The Patriots had also hosted their annual Make-A-Wish Showcase the weekend before Christmas, where they knocked off Lower Moreland High and Archbishop Ryan. Since starting the season at 1-3 with losses on the road to teams from Delaware (Caravel), Maryland (Roland Park), and Virginia (Stonewall Jackson), GA has surged back above the .500 mark to a 6-3 record. In their lone Inter-Ac League game before the holiday break, the Pats downed Penn Charter, 53-33.
Germantown’s first opponent last weekend, Dieruff, has been struggling this season, but for Saturday’s final at the Holiday Classic, the Pope John Paul Panthers brought in a record of 6-2.
Hitting two three-pointers and a lay-up in the opening quarter and logging 13 of her game-high 17 points before halftime, junior guard Erin Lindahl led the Patriots out to a 19-4 lead at the quarter and helped them settle onto a 22-point cushion at halftime, when the tally was 33-11. A few minutes into the fourth quarter, the tourney hosts led 45-15 before both teams took most of their starters off the floor for good.
“What’s unique about our team is that our bench is very deep and everyone can score,” Lindahl said after the win. “Different people step up all the time.”
When the Classic got underway on Saturday evening, a semifinal bout between Pope John Paul II and Shipley School appeared headed for overtime at 58-all, but a late Shipley turnover gave PJP an opening. Lauren Dao’s buzzer-beating three-pointer propelled the Panthers into the finals against GA.
In the first quarter of the other semifinal, a late field goal by Dieruff still had the Huskies within three-points of the Patriots, 7-10, for the start of the second frame. In just over two minutes, GA pumped up its lead to 14 points (21-7) and never looked back, holding a 32-16 advantage at halftime. Although sophomore forward Lilly Bolen went down with an ankle injury when play resumed, the Pats cruised to a 65-43 victory.
Freshman forward Alexa Naessens locked in a double-double, grabbing 13 rebounds and scoring 15 points to tie senior guard Olivia Gorman for the team-high in scoring. Also in double digits were two junior guards, Lindahl, with 12 points and four steals, and Kendall Grasela, with 11 points and five assists.
The only thing standing between Dieruff and total disaster was the performance of senior Lexii Anderson. A poised point guard who can also shoot the “three,” she rang up a game-high 30 points.
The Allentown franchise continued to take its lumps during Sunday’s consolation game at the classic, where Shipley rolled, 61-39. The Gators were led by Georgia Tech-bound forward Martine Fortune (18 points) and Lafayette recruit Nia Holland (10 points), a guard who had just gotten off the injured list a day earlier.
Having been two games under .500 just two weeks earlier, GA’s Patriots were now going into the championship game looking for their fifth straight victory. Had they taken anything away from their early losses that contributed to their subsequent success?
“Fouling and turnovers hurt us in those games, and we’ve focused on improving in those areas,” Lindahl related. “We realize there’s always a target on our backs because we’re Germantown Academy and we have this great legacy and background. I think those games we lost reminded us that we can’t take winning for granted and we have to come out hard every game.”
In the concluding game of their Make-A-Wish tournament just before Christmas, the GA girls had that legacy driven home to them when 2010 grad and Penn State great Maggie Lucas ran across the court to say a few words in their pre-game huddle.
“She was really motivational,” Lindahl said, “and she’s kind of more on our level because she’s younger and she played here. She was able to pump us up in a way that brought the fun into it.”
The effect of her words endured more than just one night, judging from the way GA started out in last Sunday’s Classic championship contest.
Lay-ups by Gorman and junior forward Lauren Oeth and a baseline shot by Oeth had the Pats ahead 6-2 over the Panthers, who scored on a drive by forward Jenna Widdicome, PJP’s high scorer in the Shipley game. The Panthers made it 6-4 with a short jumper by Steph Petery, but didn’t score again the rest of the quarter. Lindahl laid down eight points in succession, Grasela converted a pair of foul shots, and Gorman drove the right baseline for a bucket. Sophomore guard Abby Starzecky hit a free throw in the last minute to end the period with a 19-4 GA lead.
Pope John Paul was playing without guard Susan Bossler, who’d scored 17 points against Shipley but was now out sick on Sunday. The Saturday ankle injury to GA’s Bolen was not believed to be severe, but she, too, had been unable to take the court for the finals.
“We threw Alexa [Naessens] in there and she did a great job,” Lindahl noted. “She keeps getting better every day.”
A PJP lay-up by Dahlia Wilson to start the second quarter gave Panther fans a gleam of hope, but that quickly faded as Lindahl and Gorman targeted three-point missiles, back-to-back. Frequent Panther turnovers added to the number of GA’s offensive possessions. The gap had opened up to 22 points by halftime (33-11), when Lindahl’s 13 points were complemented by nine from Gorman and six from Oeth.
GA was pretty much able to glide through the second half in maintenance mode. Lindahl, with her 17 total points, was joined in double figures by Gorman, with 10, while Oeth paired eight points with eight rebounds and Grasela scored six points. Starzecky scored one point and used her quick hands to make five steals and grab four rebounds.
Naessens and ninth-grade classmate Maddie Cooper each added two points, and a third freshman, Cat Polisano, scored a free throw.
Petery, with five points, and Allison Thomas, with four, were the only PJJ players to accumulate more than two points in the contest.
GA’s Gorman, Grasela, and Lindahl were named to the All-Tournament Team in a ceremony following the finals, and were joined by Anderson (Dieruff), Dao (Pope John Paul II), and Fortune (Shipley).
After getting in a pair of Inter-Ac games against Baldwin and Agnes Irwin over the next week, the Patriots leave for another southern road trip on January 8. They will spend three days at the Sugar Bowl tournament in Coach Sherri Retif’s native New Orleans.