by Tom Utescher
In an important early match-up in the Inter-Ac League back on January 9, host Penn Charter had pinned the first league loss of the season on two-time defending champ Episcopal Academy, and the Quakers had done so convincingly, 54-40.
The EA Churchwomen began playing better in the weeks that followed, and they, in turn, laid an initial league loss on Germantown Academy (47-36 on January 22), pulling into a tie for first place with the Patriots. Penn Charter, meanwhile, had lost to GA for the second time this winter, and PC also suffered a buzzer-beater upset at the hands of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
The Quakers would have to raise their game in order to win a rematch with Episcopal on the Churchwomen’s home floor, and last Tuesday afternoon, it just didn’t happen for Charter. A 46-38 victory for the Newtown Square squad left them with a mark of 8-1 in the league and 14-5 overall, while Penn Charter went home 4-4, 11-10.
Going in, the Quakers still had a shot at tying Episcopal for third place in the Inter-Ac, if they got some help. If Charter won the EA game and the remainder of its league bouts, and if Germantown Academy topped the Churchwomen in the rematch between those two teams, both PC and Episcopal would each be likely to finish with a 9-3 record.
That scenario was scuttled last Tuesday, and the decisive moments in the contest weren’t hard to identify. Leading 6-5 at the quarter and trailing 19-16 at the half, the Quakers faded away in the third quarter, when they were outscored 15-0. That sent Episcopal up with an 18-point lead going into the final period.
As PC head coach Jim Powers pointed out, “You can’t not score in a whole quarter against a good team like Episcopal and expect to win.”
Based on what he saw from Episcopal in their earlier meeting, the PC skipper said, “We didn’t think we had to change a lot of things for this game; we just had to execute. This was a tough shooting day for us.”
A lay-up, a 15-foot jumper, and two free throws by sophomore forward Mireyah Davis got the Quakers out of the opening quarter with a 6-5 edge. EA had received a three-pointer from junior Dylan Higgins, and this turned out to be an ill omen for Penn Charter.
Higgins, well known to a number of Quakers players through AAU basketball activities, began the second stanza with another trey, and she would score two regular field goals in transition later in the period. She led all scorers at the intermission with 10 points, and finished with a game-high of 22.
Seniors Megan Pickell and Maria Kilcullen (a Loyola, Md. recruit) had paced Episcopal in its victory over at GA, and before the holiday break sophomore forward Elodie Furey had been a force in some early wins for the Churchwomen.
“That’s kind of how we are,” commented EA head coach Chuck Simmonds. “We have a number of players with good offensive skills, and on different days different people get the looks and can knock them down.”
Thanks in part to three-pointers by senior forward Nicolette Napoleon and junior guard Ayanna Matthews, PC stayed close in the second quarter, only trailing by a point as the final minute began. However, a midrange jumper by freshman forward Luca Mamula (daughter of former Philadelphia Eagle Mike Mamula) and a transition bucket by Higgins put the Churchwomen up by five at 19-14.
Then EA committed a classic no-no, fouling a three-point shooter just before the buzzer. PC junior guard Hannah Fox hit two of her three free throws with eight-tenths of a second left, making it 19-16 for the break.
Those were the first points of the game for Fox, who would collect the rest of her 12 total points in the fourth quarter.
“We made a concerted effort on her,” EA’s Simmonds said. “She’s a really good shooter and she can score in bunches. Margaux [Paolino, a junior point guard] and Maria [Kilcullen] played her a good deal, but we still had to be aware of Matthews and their other good players, so it was a team effort on defense.”
Powers, the Quakers’ mentor, said that at halftime “We talked about converting on the offensive end, and not turning the ball over. It wasn’t a huge problem; we just needed to handle the ball a little better, and in the first half we were getting looks and not finishing as many shots as we should. Unfortunately, we went back out, turned the ball over right away, and then didn’t score a point in the third quarter.”
Higgins continued to produce for the hosts, lobbing in a pair of three-pointers and adding a lay-up. Furey, scoreless in the first half, struck twice from the paint, and in the final minute of the period, junior forward Lily Kuntz bagged a trey from the left corner. The Churchwomen were now up 34-16 with eight minutes to go.
“I thought we rebounded the ball better in the third quarter than we did in the first half, and keeping them to one shot each time was important,” assessed Simmonds. “On offense we got some good looks, and we had some more inside stuff – we weren’t relying on the outside shots as much.”
PC’s premier junior guards, Fox and Matthews, came on strong to help the Quakers outpoint Episcopal 22-12 in that last stanza, but the visitors had started from too far back.
Fox scored twice in transition, bagged a 15-footer, and shot four-for-four from the foul line for 10 points, and Matthews scored eight on a pair of three-point buckets and a lay-up off a steal by sophomore Alexis Hnatkowsky.
Matthews’ lay-up got the Quakers back within seven points of the leaders, 40-33, forcing an EA time-out with 56 seconds to go. EA came back out and broke Charter’s press, getting a lay-up and free throw from Higgins. The margin went back down to seven on Matthew’s second “three” of the final period, but with 32 seconds now remaining, that would prove to be the last field goal of the game. The rest of the way, EA shot three-for-five from the foul line, and Fox gave PC two points on a one-and-one.
Higgins was far-and-away the leading scorer for the Churchwomen, who received eight points and 10 rebounds from Furey, six points from Pickell, four from Kilcullen, and three each from Kuntz and Mamula. In PC’s scoring column, Matthews (13) and Fox (12) were followed by Davis, with seven points, Napoleon, with three, Hnatkowsky, with two, and sophomore Julie Webb, with one.