by Tom Utescher
In the space of just five days, the girls of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy seemed to have undergone a remarkable transformation.
In a foul-plagued performance on Saturday, January 3, the Blue Devils had suffered a disturbing defeat on the road against Agnes Irwin, perhaps their least-challenging Inter-Ac League opponent. Now, on Wednesday, January 7, SCH was hanging right in a non-league contest against a much better basketball team, Abington Friends.
Bolting to an eight-point lead in the middle of the opening quarter, the host Blue Devils saw their advantage over AFS gradually dwindle. They still led by a point at the start of the fourth quarter, but then the visiting Kangaroos bounded into the lead and were up 42-36 with five minutes to go.
SCH stopped its slide and clawed back within a point, 43-44, with a minute to go. Blue Devils eighth-grader Mo’ne Davis drove for the eventual game-winning lay-up with 47 seconds left, and following a few missed scoring opportunities for both teams, junior guard Lindsay Hiner nailed both ends of a one-and-one gambit at the foul line with three seconds on the clock.
The 47-44 victory raised the Blue Devils’ overall record to 7-2, while Abington left with an 8-5 mark. Hiner had divided her game-high 20 points almost evenly between the two halves. Davis, who finished with 11, had just a lone free throw before halftime, then came on for three points in the third quarter and seven in the fourth.
Another eighth-grader, forward Delaney Sweitzer, deposited six points, while sophomore post player Chloe Burns scored four points and senior guard Caroline Henry and junior forward Essence Walden provided three points apiece.
Jade Young, a tall sophomore guard, led the losing cause with 13 points. Abington center Alexa Middleton, a strong junior who can dominate a ball game, finished with 11 points, but only two of them came in the decisive second half.
The Blue Devils had played most of their early games on the road, and even in their own tournament just before the holiday break, the action took place in the Kingsley Gymnasium on the old Chestnut Hill Academy campus. Last Wednesday, the SCH girls made their first official appearance in their customary home venue, the Vare Fieldhouse.
“This was our first true home game, and it was a good opportunity for us to get back on the winning track,” noted first-year head coach Tony Tucker. “We’re still trying to get back the chemistry we had before the break.”
In the previous weekend’s debacle at Agnes Irwin, the Blue Devils had quickly fallen behind by double digits, 12-2.
Since then, Tucker said, “What we’d been stressing all week was getting off to a good start. We needed to cut down on some of the self-imposed problems, like unforced turnovers, and I wanted to see us play more aggressively and confidently.”
The home team’s Walden started up the scoreboard with a lay-up, then three-pointers by Hiner and Henry gave SCH an 8-4 edge, with Middleton striking twice for the Kangaroos. Davis fed Hiner for a transition basket, and when Hiner followed in a teammate’s miss, AFS had to call a time-out, trailing 12-4 with the game not four minutes old.
The visitors responded well to their peptalk, coming back to outscore the Blue Devils 9-2 in a run that extended a minute into the second quarter. Sweitzer stepped up to help the hosts recover their equilibrium. She scored all of her six points over the next three minutes, netting the last two on a drive that tied the score at 21 halfway through the second round.
The teams traded points up to 25-all, but with 36 seconds left in the first half Abington moved ahead on two free throws by Young. Middleton scored from the paint, and at the buzzer Kangaroos freshman Cheryl Remolde banked in a 15-footer from the right wing, sending the visitors into their huddle to a 31-25 lead.
Middleton was leading the Kangaroo scorers with nine points, but after the intermission she would only add one fourth-quarter field goal.
“I thought Chloe did a good job on her,” Tucker said, “and when Delaney came in she did a good job. We also wanted to control their point guard [sophomore Alyssa DeNofa], and we were able to get her into foul trouble.”
After giving up the last six points scored in the first half, the Blue Devils responded with a 9-2 third period. Davis drove the lane for her first field goal of the afternoon, and both she and Walden added a free throw. Hiner then hit a “three” from the right corner and went inside for a lay-up. At the end of the period, the Kangaroos registered their first points of the frame thanks to a bucket by Young, and they were down by just one point, 34-33, at the start of the final round.
Young kept going for a field goal and a free throw early in the fourth quarter. SCH’s Burns, a graduate of Norwood Fontbonne Academy, put in a lay-up to get the Blue Devils back even at 36-36, but then AFS guard Asia Turner, who’d had a quiet day hitherto, chalked up six of her nine total points in just 21 seconds, firing back-to-back three-pointers.
Down 42-36, the hosts called time-out with 5:05 on the clock. Davis drove into the paint and pulled up to bag a short jumper, and after the ‘Roos missed two free-throws, the SCH eighth-grader hit a similar shot from the right of the lane. This had the Devils’ deficit down to two points, and Abington’s next possession ended with a shot blocked by Springside Chestnut Hill’s Destini Curry, a sophomore forward.
The home team came right down the floor to have Hiner score in transition, knotting the score at 42-all with 3:14 remaining, but on their next trip the visitors edged ahead again, as a Middleton basket furnished them with their final two points of the afternoon.
AFS had seen its point guard, DeNofa, acquire her fourth personal foul back in the middle of the third round, and now Middleton reached the same dangerous level, with her fourth infraction sending Davis to the line to make the second of two tosses. On the other side, SCH’s Curry committed her fourth foul, and although the Kangaroos came up empty on the resulting one-and-one, they still led 44-43 when the Blue Devils called a time-out with 64 seconds left to play.
Taking a pass from Burns, Davis went in for a lay-up that nudged SCH ahead by a point. After another chalk-talk, the hosts came back out to trap an AFS ballhandler against the sideline, forcing the ‘Roos to call a time-out of their own with 28 seconds to go. When the action resumed, Turner drove the baseline and earned a one-and-one at the foul line, then missed the first shot to leave the Devils in the lead.
Springside Chestnut Hill turned the ball over, then Davis stole it back, but she was unable to net any points from a one-and-one with 15 seconds remaining. Turner came in along with right baseline once more, but this time the Blue Devils avoided contact, and the field goal attempt failed. Hiner scooped up the rebound and was fouled. At the far end, the first shot of her one-and-one went through cleanly, then the second shot rattled in to make it a three-point game with three seconds left. A desperate final inbounds play by the Kangaroos produced a shot that was way off-target, and SCH chalked up it most encouraging “W” of the season thus far.
“I told the girls I was very happy to see our good reaction when Abington came back and we got down,” Tucker remarked. “We could have sort of wilted away, but the girls dug down and showed a lot of character. We were able to get key baskets when we needed them.”