by Tom Utescher
In the opening stages of last Thursday’s Inter-Ac finale in girls basketball, it appeared that host Penn Charter was destined for a fourth-place finish in the final standings. Going in, visiting Notre Dame was alone in third place, and the Irish jetted out to a 13-0 lead in the first four minutes.
The Quakers didn’t panic, though, and slowly worked their way back into contention. They got their deficit back down into nine points by the close of the first quarter, and it was the same at halftime, when the count was 27-18. Six points behind at the three-quarter mark, Charter forged ahead in a 15-4 final period, winning 45-40 while receiving 16 points from junior guard Hannah Fox and 13 from senior forward Nicolette Napoleon.
The two teams ended the league campaign tied for third place with records of 7-5, and with a split in their home-away series. The previous Saturday Penn Charter (14-11 overall) had lost on the road at Notre Dame (11-13) by a similar score, 45-39.
The Quakers had actually been the first Inter-Ac team this season to defeat defending champ Episcopal, but their fortunes took a downturn with a last-second loss at Springside Chestnut Hill. PC lost both games in its season series against 2015 title winner Germantown Academy, and also succumbed in its rematch against EA.
Charter had slipped to 5-5 in the league before winning its rematch with SCH on Tuesday of last week. The Blue Devils had been playing poorly, but having decided not to participate in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament, they gave a good account of themselves in their final game of the 2014-15 season.
The Quakers found themselves down at the end of three quarters, 30-27, but rallied in the fourth to take home a 45-42 victory. Fox shot a game high 15, with sophomore forward Mireyah Davis scoring eight points and Napoleon, junior guard Ayanna Matthews, and sophomore forward Julie Webb each contributing six points.
A 14-point effort from eighth-grade guard Mo’ne Davis led the Blue Devils, who got nine points from sophomore forward Chloe Burns and seven from junior forward Essence Walden. Despite playing well in spurts during the season and getting off to a 6-1 start, SCH finished 9-13 overall and 1-11 within the league.
Before last Thursday’s game at Penn Charter, the host school honored its three departing seniors, Napoleon and guards Caroline Jones and Jessica Soens.
Notre Dame is widely known for its perimeter shooting, but nonetheless PC watched visiting senior Sam Sacchetta start the Irish off with a pair of three-pointers. Senior Sophia Galantino and junior Alex Kane joined in on the scoring from closer to the basket, and when the Irish eventually went up 13-0, Charter called a time-out with 3:53 left in the opening round.
As Napoleon noted later, “We never really gave up because we believe in ourselves and we knew that we could stick with them. We just had to slow the game down and play our tempo.”
With the clock almost down to two minutes, Matthews drove in to wipe the zero off the home side of the scoreboard, and later two free throws and a 15-foot jumper by Fox helped fashion a more respectable 15-6 tally for the close of the quarter.
Notre Dame’s Jill Kane hit a triple as the second period commenced, but Charter would hold its own during the period, 12-12. Three-point shots by Napoleon and Fox helped the home team, but at the break the Quakers were still down by nine (27-18), and they could not wait too much longer to begin paring down the visitors’ lead.
Summing up the key points made in PC’s halftime huddle, Napoleon related, “We needed to lock down on their shooters, box out and rebound, and make our shots.”
Fox struck from right corner for a trey early in round three while Matthews and Davis added points from the foul line. Near the middle of the period Napoleon scored back-to-back baskets, hitting a lay-up and then a short jumper from the lane, making it a three-point game at 31-28. An Irish lay-up was answered with a 10-footer by PC’s Davis, but Notre Dame had junior Kristen Rogers hit an extra-long ‘three’ after that, sending the Irish into the fourth quarter leading by six points, 36-30.
Davis went right in for a lay-up, and then Fox and Napoleon each deposited two free throws, pulling Penn Charter even at 36-all with 6:07 remaining in the game. The second of these two Irish fouls put Charter into the bonus.
“In the fourth quarter, we knew that the fouls were in our favor,” noted Napoleon, whose team had committed just two personals while Notre Dame was accumulating seven.
Tess Phillips, a reserve forward for the Irish, gave the visitors a lead two more times. She sandwiched a transition basket and two foul shots around a Napoleon lay-up set up by a high-low pass from Davis.
After Phillips’ free throws moved Notre Dame ahead again at 40-38 with 1:36 to go, PC’s Napoleon passed the ball to Matthews cutting down the lane. The junior made a lay-up and also a free throw that came along with it, putting PC in the lead for good (41-40) with 1:16 on the clock.
After missing a lay-up and a three-point attempt, the Irish fouled PC’s Fox, who gave the Quakers a 43-40 lead with 37 seconds left.
With fouls to give, Charter committed a few to make the Irish inbound the ball and re-form their offense. The last of these fouls, by Fox, stopped the clock at 8.6 seconds.
Notre Dame’s Rogers set up on the right side for a “three,” but then stepped inside the loop and missed what had become a two-point attempt. Napoleon collected the rebound, and when she was fouled, she put the final points on the board with 2.1 ticks to go.
Matthews contributed eight points to the winning effort, while Davis had six points and nine rebounds, and sophomore Alexis Hnatkowsky scored two points. Notre Dame’s Sacchetta, who had scored the first six points of the afternoon, finished with nine to lead the Irish, who received seven points apiece from cousins Alex and Jill Kane.