SCH eighth-grader Mo’ne Davis (right, with ball) looks for a way around Agnes Irwin senior Lauren Spinelli. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

SCH eighth-grader Mo’ne Davis (right, with ball) looks for a way around Agnes Irwin senior Lauren Spinelli. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Why does Springside Chestnut Hill Academy allow some talented eighth-grade girls to play high school varsity basketball? Last Saturday afternoon, the outcome of the Blue Devils’ first game of the new year provided one answer.

Without the contributions of two middle-schoolers, an Inter-Ac League contest at Agnes Irwin would’ve been much worse than just a disappointing defeat for SCH. Eighth-grade point guard Mo’ne Davis put up a game-high 18 points and classmate Delaney Sweitzer, a forward, added seven more, so the two youngsters accounted for 25 of their team’s 37 points in a 45-37 loss to the Owls.

Getting in early foul trouble and eventually having two players ejected, SCH rallied from a seven-point deficit at the end of the opening quarter to make it a two-point game by halftime, when Irwin held a 19-17 edge. The Blue Devils tossed away the third quarter, allowing the Owls to add 10 more points to their lead, and the visitors never really recovered.

Each team had lost the lone Inter-Ac League game it had played before Christmas, but the two ball clubs closed out the old year in different ways. Springside Chestnut Hill notched a 60-33 win over Atlantic Christian School in a single-game appearance at the Jameer Nelson Classic on December 29, climbing to an overall record of 6-1. Agnes Irwin began 2015 with a mark of 3-5, but the Owls were under .500 because they had played some tough PIAA competition at a two-day tournament in Conshohocken [see Mount St. Joseph article].

Last Saturday at Irwin, two seniors got the hosts got out to a 5-0 lead, Steph Williams hitting a lay-up, and Cece Corbett making three of four free throws. The early foul calls against the guests were an omen; the team totals at the end of the game were 12 for Agnes Irwin, and 25 for SCH. There wasn’t a whole lot the visitors could do about that, but they could’ve served their cause better by not becoming frustrated as easily as they did.

The Blue Devils got on the board five minutes into the game, when a pass from sophomore forward Destini Curry set up a transition lay-up by senior guard Caroline Henry. Irwin went on to lead 12-2 before the quarter ended with an and-one play by Blue Devils junior forward Essence Walden.

Down 12-5, the visitors were now operating without their tallest player, sophomore forward Chloe Burns, a Norwood Fontbonne Academy grad. She had acquired three fouls in a little over five minutes. Junior guard Lindsay Hiner picked up her third personal a minute into the second quarter, but at least a baseline jumper by Davis and a put-back by Walden had revived the SCH offense.

After a bucket by Irwin, Sweitzer hit one free throw and then converted the rebound of her own lay-up, closing up the score to 14-12 midway through the second stanza. The teams then traded points to arrive at a 19-17 halftime tally.

The Blue Devils now needed just a single field goal to even things up, but the third quarter unfolded in a different manner. After two scoreless minutes, Irwin freshman Alex Blomstrom put in a follow-up shot. Aware of SCH’s foul difficulties, the Owls went hard to the basket. Williams hit a pair of lay-ups, and after Corbett sank a free throw, Blomstrom stepped back for a three-pointer. The home team’s 10-0 surge to start the quarter prompted a time-out for the Blue Devils, who now trailed 29-17.

They came back out to see Davis bag a short jumper from the lane and score on a baseline drive, but then the SCH defense let the Owls make two baskets in the last 16 seconds of the period. The home team was taking a 33-21 lead into the final quarter, and the Blue Devils’ Burns, Hiner, and Walden each had four fouls apiece.

With the first SCH foul of round four (43 seconds in), the Owls were in the one-and-one bonus, and had had no personals called against them. The Blue Devils had a couple whistles go their way in the second minute, but the scoreboard climbed slowly as each team went two-for-four at the charity stripe. SCH’s second foul of the period was Burns’ fifth of the afternoon, and she departed with 6:22 left to play. Hiner and Walden managed to stay on the floor, but Henry rapidly added to her foul total, and was ejected just before the midpoint of the period, with Irwin up 41-26.

Sweitzer converted a rebound for the Blue Devils and Davis, who had scored a transition field goal and two free throws earlier, made two driving lay-ups and another foul shot to round out a nine-point closing quarter. Inside buckets by Hiner and Sweitzer helped the visitors finish up with an 11-4 run over the last four minutes, but they’d started out too far down.

Walden wound up with five points in the losing cause, with Henry and Hiner adding four and three points, respectively. The winners got double-digit production from Williams (15) and Corbett (12), along with seven points from senior Lauren Spinelli and six from Blomstrom. Four points from freshman Paige Braia and a free throw from sophomore Caroline Coyne capped it off for the Owls.

No easy road lies ahead for the Blue Devils. Their next opponent, Abington Friends, lost by just five points last month to an Episcopal Academy team that beat SCH by 21. After that, the locals have a league match-up with Baldwin, who edged Abington by one point at the end of December.

The following Tuesday, January 13, the Blue Devils meet Inter-Ac co-leader Germantown Academy, but they can hope that Patriots will be tired after just returning from a three-day tournament in New Orleans. One bit of good news for SCH is that junior Marissa Pownall, normally a starter at shooting guard, should soon be back in the line-up after recovering from a concussion.