by Tom Utescher
With a similar cast of characters to that of its 2013-14 ballclub, Penn Charter finished this winter’s basketball season with a similar outcome.
As they did a year ago, the Quaker girls ended their season in the semifinal round of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament. Last year eventual champion Shipley School ended PC’s season with a double-digit margin at the end, while last Friday afternoon the Quakers closed out the 2014-15 campaign with a more spirited performance, finally bowing to top-seeded Germantown Academy, 51-46.
Charter received double-digit scoring from junior guards Hannah Fox (15 points) and Ayanna Matthews (13) and from sophomore forward Mireyah Davis, coming from 13 points down early in the fourth quarter to trail by just one (45-44) with two minutes to go.
Both this year and last, Charter put up a 7-5 record within the Inter-Ac League; last season that got the Quakers sole possession of third place, and this time around they tied for third with the Academy of Notre Dame.
There was a disparity in the team’s overall record in the two seasons, though. Wrapping things up a year ago at 19-8, PC suffered some losses against some tough non-league opponents this winter, and finished 17-13.
After completing the league schedule on a positive note with a come-from-behind victory over visiting Notre Dame, the Quakers also played their first two PAIS games on their home court. Fourth-seeded Charter knocked off Germantown Friends in the opening round back on February 13, and in their first game last week they downed number five Friends Central, 58-45, moving on to the semifinal clash with GA.
Penn Charter and Friends Central had met in their mutual season opener back on December 2, when the Quakers won convincingly on the road, 61-42. A lot had changed for each team over the course of the season, though. PC had been up-and-down, registering some impressive victories, but also suffering some unsettling setbacks.
Friends Central had lost only one more game throughout the rest of the regular season and in its league playoffs, with its confidence climbing to new levels after the Phoenix dethroned four-time defending Friends Schools League champ Shipley School. FC topped the Gators, 36-30, in the FSL finals on February 13.
Nevertheless, when Charter and Friends Central met again last Wednesday, the encounter had roughly the same outcome as their meeting two-and-a-half months before. PC won by 13 points this time instead of 21, but the Quakers had the gap out to 22 points with under four minutes left to play.
Unlike in the first game, when PC charged to a sizable first-quarter lead, last week’s clash was relatively close until the second half. Part of the reason for that is that Fox was relatively quiet early on, scoring just two of her 17 total points before the intermission.
Matthews kicked off the scoring in the contest with a three-pointer from the right corner, and before long sophomore Alexis Hnatkowski proved her prowess from the three-point loop, striking three times. FC junior guard Iyanna McCurdy mixed up her shots to put up seven first-half points, while 6’3” sophomore center Mikayla Vaughan scored twice from the paint. The Phoenix had junior forward Anna Leone hit her second field goal of the game near the end of the first half, bringing the visitors within six points of the Quakers at the interlude, 25-19.
Matthews, who led all players at this stage with 11 points, initiated the scoring in the second half, hitting a lay-up after receiving a pass from senior forward Nicolette Napoleon. Overall, the Quakers did a good job of cutting and finding the cutters out of their set offense, and they connected well in transition, too.
Before the third quarter was three minutes old, Matthews had all but two of her 20 points in the book. Now it was time for Fox to step up. She scored the rest of PC’s points in the period, starting with a lay-up on the fast break, and adding a three-pointer and two medium-range jump shots.
Starting the final round trailing 41-26, the Phoenix now got hit from a different direction. Coming off the Quakers’ bench, sophomore Julie Webb deposited her team’s first three field goals, one of them on a quick, crowd-rousing baseline drive.
In the midst of the young forward’s fun, her classmate Davis had put in a pair of free throws, and when Hnatkowsky stole the ball and assisted on Matthews’ final bucket of the afternoon, the hosts were ahead 51-29 with 3:42 remaining. Friends Central attempted a late rally, but got no closer than a dozen points.
Led in the scoring, as usual, by Matthews and Fox (17 points), Charter got nine from Hnatkowsky, six from Webb, five from Davis, and one from junior Taylor Zahairagunn. Leading the Phoenix were McCurdy (16), Vaughan (11), and Leone (10).
Fox got going with a three-pointer in Friday’s semifinal against Germantown Academy, but that would be Charter’s lone field goal of the opening quarter as the Patriots got out to a 13-5 lead. GA continued on to take a 27-13 advantage into the final minute of the first half, but PC got two points back before the break, on a pair of free throws by Davis.
As round three got underway, Fox canned a ‘three’ from the right wing and stuck a shorter jumper, and Matthews also connected from the three-point arc to make it 27-23 in short order. GA’s lone senior, guard Olivia Gorman, steadied the Patriots with a trey of her own.
The Patriots bumped their lead back into double figures, but near the end of the third frame, a Charter lay-up by Hnatkowsky made it an eight-point game with seven seconds to go. Germantown was still able to get the ball down to the other end for a buzzer-beating lay-up by Gorman, so the count was 38-28 at the three-quarter mark.
Gorman also scored the first basket of the final period, a three-pointer that stretched the lead to 13 points. The Quakers now had to get to work on the offensive end right away, and they did, starting with a Davis lay-up. This touched off a four-and-a-half minute stretch in which PC outscored GA, 12-3, with Matthews leading the charge with a three-point field goal, another three points on an ‘and-one’, and two additional free throws.
This made it 44-40 with under three minutes to go, and after Davis and GA junior Kendall Grasela traded single free throws, Fox stabbed a ‘three’ from the left corner. Now only up by a point with two minutes left, GA spread out its offense. Charter had to foul, and initially this worked out well, as two different Patriot players each missed the front end of a one-and-one.
The final minute began with an old-fashioned “tweet”, the kind that emanates from an official’s whistle. PC fans thought this was meant to signal a foul against Germantown, but instead a walk was called on the Quakers. They had to foul once again, and this violation put GA in the double bonus and junior Erin Lindahl socked away both shots with 43 seconds left to give her team a 47-44 advantage.
With 20 seconds to go, Charter’s Hnatkowsky committed her fifth personal foul, and the Patriots’ Gorman extracted a two-point penalty. It’s in this situation near the end of a game that the leading coach yells “Don’t foul the three-point shooter!” GA went right ahead and did it anyway, and PC’s Fox made the first two of her three attempts with 14 seconds left, closing up the score to 49-46.
On the third shot, GA rebounded the miss, and with six seconds left, the final points went up on the board as Lindahl drained another pair of free throws. At the far end, PC missed a three-point shot and a put-back attempt as time ran out on its season.
Supporting the Quakers’ top three scorers were Hnatowsky, with four points, and Napoleon, with three. Gorman led the winners with 21 points, and Lindahl added a dozen.