by Tom Utescher
Olivia Gorman wanted to end her Germantown Academy basketball career the way she began it, as an Inter-Ac League champion. Her 20-minute, 20-point outburst at Episcopal Academy last Saturday helped her Patriots take a giant step toward that goal, as GA edged the host Churchwomen in overtime, 44-43, to secure at least a tie for the 2015 title.
The compact guard, who is headed for Wesleyan University next year, did not score in the first half, but in the last two quarters and the four-minute overtime she banged out three three-pointers and shot five for seven from the foul line en route to her game-high total.
Episcopal scored with 14 seconds left in regulation play to force overtime at 41-41. Gorman and EA senior guard Meghan Pickell each hit a pair of free throws in the extra session, then with 1.5 seconds left, junior guard Kendall Grasela deposited the second of two foul shots to provide the game-winning point for the Patriots.
In Gorman’s freshman season, GA claimed the 2012 Inter-Ac crown with a 10-2 record (there are no playoffs in the league), but Episcopal has won the last two championships. In the 2013-14 season, Germantown won the third meeting between the teams in the semifinals of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament, but that did nothing to change the unsatisfactory outcome in the Inter-Ac. GA had won at least a share of the title from 1999 to 2012, and current crop of Patriots wanted to seat themselves on the Inter-Ac throne once more.
Suffering a league loss at Penn Charter on January 9, Episcopal was able to win at GA two weeks later (47-36) and pull into a tie for first place in the standings. After Germantown won last weekend’s rematch, the Patriots were 10-1 in Inter-Ac competition and Episcopal was 9-2, each with one league game remaining.
GA has a chance to win the title outright in front of a home crowd this Tuesday (Feb. 10), but will have to go through third-place Notre Dame. If the Pats can’t get it done, they would almost surely end up sharing the laurels with EA, which finishes up against sixth-place Agnes Irwin.
After Saturday’s victory, GA head coach Sherri Retif noted, “Episcopal’s a very talented team and they play excellent defense. We were eventually able to pull them out of their zone where they pack it in with all that size.”
Drawing some lessons from last month’s loss to the Churchwomen, Retif said, “We wanted to get the ball inside, get our post players more touches and more shots. We wanted to get to the foul line; we didn’t do that in the first half today, but we did in the second half. Mainly, it was Olivia Gorman who put the team on her shoulders.”
Junior forward Lauren Oeth paired eight points with eight rebounds to lead the Patriots in the paint, but she would foul out during the fourth quarter. Freshman Alexa Naessens, who came off the bench in the first half to score all of her six points, came in later to replace Oeth.
“Alexa had to play those last minutes of regulation and then in the overtime in a high-pressure situation,” Retif pointed out. “She didn’t play like a freshman; she stepped up her game and played smart out there.”
As part of the Patriots’ defensive game plan, Gorman explained, “We focused on playing good help defense while still being able to get back to our girls. We wanted to keep them from driving.”
Grasela added, “We knew we needed to play better defense in the post than in the first game. We had to make sure to front them, because they’re taller than us.”
EA’s 6’2” sophomore, Elodie Furey, converted on an offensive rebound to open the game’s scoring, then three-pointers by junior guard Margaux Paolino and senior forward Maria Kilcullen (a Loyola, Md. recruit) helped the hosts continue on to a 9-2 lead. GA had only managed a lone lay-up by Oeth, but the Patriots’ offense started to perk up when Grasela scored a runner midway through the period. The teams then traded points until the quarter concluded with EA ahead 13-8.
GA’s Naessens, who had subbed in to add a field goal late in the first frame, now scored two more times from the paint as the second round got underway. When sophomore Lilly Bolen stuck a “three” from the left corner early in the final minute of the first half, Germantown led for the first time, 15-13.
GA had dialed up its defense after the first period, and even when the Churchwomen got some open looks, the basket simply refused to accept their shots. Finally, they broke their second-quarter drought with a mid-range jumper by Kilcullen with 18 seconds to go, and the teams huddled up at the half all even at 15-15.
The primary plot line of the third quarter was that GA’s Gorman simply went off against Episcopal. Three three-point baskets, a traditional “and-one” three-point play, and another lay-up on a drive had the senior accounting for all of her team’s points in the period. After EA’s Pickell launched the second-half scoring with a lay-up and Gorman responded with her first three-ball, two free throws by Kilcullen gave the Churchwomen their last lead of the day, 19-18. Gorman then scored eight points in a row.
“The first half, I felt like I wasn’t very warmed up,” the Patriots’ lone senior said. “We started playing better defense and we got some momentum, and I just started hitting open shots. We played more and more as a team as the game went on. We were forcing some shots early in the game, but later we started to look for the pass and find the open people.”
The fly in the Patriots’ third-quarter ointment was that they were having some trouble defending without fouling. By the end of the period, they had put Episcopal in the bonus, and much earlier, Oeth acquired her third personal. The Churchwomen cashed in, hitting all eight of their free throws to enter the fourth quarter just two points behind, 29-27.
The scoring in the final frame was begun by – who else – GA’s Gorman, with a put-back of her own shot. Soon, Oeth added a jumper from the foul line and a lay-up off an inbounds pass, but Episcopal seniors Pickell and Kilcullen also scored to keep their club close.
When Oeth picked up her fifth foul with 2:27 left on the clock, Episcopal attained the double bonus, and Furey bagged the first of her two free throws to make it a one-point affair, 35-34. While the Patriots scored no more field goals, Episcopal’s next foul was its seventh, and GA junior guard Erin Lindahl shot a flawless one-and-one at the line.
Almost directly under the basket, EA junior Dylan Higgins maneuvered the ball up into the cylinder for a 37-36 tally with just over two minutes left. After Germantown worked the ball around the top of its offensive set for a spell, Gorman drove in and drew a foul.
Her free throws pried the lead back out to three points, but then EA’s Kilcullen received the ball out on the left wing and buried her second trey of the fourth quarter. The hosts called time-out, now back to even at 39-all and with 56.1 seconds remaining.
With the Patriots up on offense with half-a-minute to go, Kilcullen was called for running through a screen, and Lindahl once more drained both shots of a one-and-one. The home crowd felt the foul was a weak call, but they wouldn’t see the game end on that sour note, as Higgins penetrated along the left baseline and scored to tie the contest with 14 seconds to go. The Pats didn’t use that time wisely, eventually rushing a shot that wouldn’t fall and leaving the tie score on the board.
With overtime in the offing, Grasela recounted, “We huddled up and said, they beat us two years in a row, now this is our time.”
The score remained 41-41 through the first half of the four-minute overtime period, with both teams turning the ball over. After the Churchwomen missed a wide open shot on a breakaway, they committed their 10th team foul and Gorman got both points from the double-bonus trip to the line. The Pats’ modest lead was soon erased; EA evened things up at 43-all with a pair of Pickell free throws.
The hosts fouled GA’s Gorman again, and this time, uncharacteristically, she missed on both attempts. However, the play had lost Episcopal the services of Kilcullen, who left the floor with her fifth personal foul as the clock now showed 1:07 to go.
Setting up on offense, the Churchwomen pared the time down further, then called their final time-out with 21.3 seconds left. When they came back out, Pickell lost her grip on the ball out near the right sideline, and when she and GA’s Bolen dove down after it, a tie-up call found the possession arrow pointing to the Patriots.
That advantage vanished with a steal by Episcopal’s Paolino, who was fouled and then missed both free throws with 9.9 seconds remaining. The home team got new life when Furey rebounded the second miss along the left baseline, but when the Churchwomen swung the ball around to the opposite wing, the result was an errant three-point attempt.
This time, the rebound went to GA courtesy of Grasela, who was fouled in a scrum under the basket. She went to the line at the far end of the court with 1.5 seconds remaining. The junior missed her first shot, but despite the high drama of the situation, the GA contingent wasn’t that worried. Even in foul shooting sessions during practice, Grasela said she usually misses on her first try.
“She just likes to make things exciting,” Coach Retif said with a smile when it was all over. “I had my money on the second one going in; these kids shoot a high percentage from the line.”
“The first shot was a little shaky,” Grasela related. “I tilted a little bit and I thought, uh-oh that’s not going in. The second one felt good, though, and I stuck my leg up. Usually when I stick my leg up [she demonstrated a short forward movement] I know it’s going in. I don’t know what it is, it just comes up.”
After Grasela gave GA a crucial leg up on the scoreboard, the Churchwomen got the ball to midcourt, but didn’t get off a shot before the buzzer sounded. Kilcullen and Pickell led Episcopal with 13 and nine points, respectively, with six points apiece added by Furey, Higgins, and junior Lily Kuntz.