by Tom Utescher
Former Mount St. Joseph Academy hoops players squared off against one another in the NCAA summer league last week, when 2013 grad Kelsey Jones and her Philadelphia University-powered Team Black played back-to-back games against Team Neon Green, which includes 2014 MSJ products Alex Louin (Villanova) and Carly Monzo (Loyola).
On Tuesday, in the final game on the regular-season schedule, Jones and the summer Lady Rams eked out a 66-65 victory, but there was more riding on the outcome of the rematch two nights later, since it occurred in the quarterfinal round of the league’s single-elimination tournament. Neon, who had been missing Louin on Tuesday, had her back on Thursday night, and the Neon team advanced to the semifinals with a 57-50 victory, ending Team Black’s season.
Michelle Boggs, a 2012 Springside School graduate who will soon start her senior year at East Stroudsburg University, is a member of Team Sapphire Blue. Her franchise also had two games on its agenda last week but wound up playing only one of them. Sapphire, which includes seven of Boggs’ East Stroudsburg teammates, had started the summer season 1-4, but then won five of its next six games before ending the regular season on Tuesday with a 51-39 setback at the hands of defending champion Team Gold.
Boggs scored four points in that contest on a field goal and two free throws, and despite the loss, Sapphire’s 6-6 record was good enough for the team to garner the fifth seed for the playoffs. On Thursday they were slated to play a quarterfinal game against fourth-seeded Team Maroon (8-4), but this squad forfeited the game to Sapphire. Maroon is composed entirely of West Chester University athletes and they had to work at a camp back at their school.
Entire NCAA Division II and III teams are allowed to play together in the league, while only two players from the same Division I school are allowed to be on the same summer squad. In addition to the Philly U. and West Chester summer entities, there is also a Team Purple made up entirely of University of the Sciences in Philadelphia players.
Maroon’s no-show on Thursday moved Sapphire right into the semifinal round against Neon Green, which was the third seed for the playoffs with a 9-3 record that included a regular-season win over Team Gold but also losses to Sapphire, Black, and Team Pink. Pink (mostly University of Scranton with two significant St. Joseph’s additions) lost to Gold head-to-head during the regular season, but ended up with the same 11-1 record and went into the playoffs as the second seed.
Sapphire, Black, and Purple had all been 6-6 going into the playoff seeding, and various tiebreaking procedures ranked them fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively for postseason play.
For Tuesday’s regular-season finale Neon Green only had six players on hand, while Black had twice as many turn up. The AAU Renegades facility that hosts the league is not air-conditioned, so bench depth is an important factor.
Midway through the first of the 10-minute quarters, the score was tied at 8-8, but Neon’s McKenzie Rule (Cardinal O’Hara/St. Joseph’s) would net a three-pointer and two lay-ups during the period to help her ball club take an 18-14 lead into the second round. Team Black guard Alynna Williams, who just graduated from Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in June, had netted a trey in the opening round, and in the second quarter she added another “three” and three regular field goals, leading the Lady Rams back to a halftime tie at 35-all.
After Rule’s first-quarter heroics, the Neon offense leaned heavily on its two 6’2” players. By halftime, Megan Quinn (Episcopal/Villanova) and Maureen Leahy (Cardinal O’Hara/Bryant University) had scored 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Six different Team Black players scored before the intermission, and three others would join in during the second half. Two of the new contributors, sophomore Rachel Day (Archbishop Wood) and redshirt freshman Erin Maher (North Penn) each rang up five points in the third period as the Philly U. crew gained some separation.
Team Black would take a 53-45 lead into the fourth quarter, and they pushed the margin into double figures as senior Alex Heck (Archbishop Wood) kicked off the final round by making a pair of free throws. Unfortunately for her team, that wasn’t an accurate indicator of how Black would perform at the foul line down the stretch, when they made only five of 10 shots.
With just two points (free throws) in the book over the first three quarters, Neon Green guard Nia Holland (Shipley/Lafayette) came alive for eight points in the final frame. Driving to the hoop soon after Black had extended its lead to 10 points, Holland lit the fuse for a 14-2 offensive explosion by Neon.
She added two more buckets during the outburst, and Monzo ran the floor for back-to-back scores in transition. Holland’s last basket during this surge pushed her ball club ahead, 59-57, with under four minutes remaining. A baseline jumper by sophomore Erin Rafter (Washington Township, N.J.) helped stop Team Black’s slide and then the score moved sideways to 61-61 for the start of the final minute.
The summer Rams inched ahead with a made free throw by senior Mary Newell, who had played against the Mount girls back when she was at Villa Joseph Marie. Neon seesawed into the lead when an alert Monzo made a high-low pass down to Leahy under the basket with 35 seconds left.
At the other end, Black also got a good assist as Day slipped the ball in along the right baseline to set up a Newell lay-up for a 64-63 tally.
After Neon missed an imprudent sort of reverse scoop shot on their next possession, Black held the ball and had Day drive at the end. She was fouled and made both shots with four seconds to go. That made it a three-point game, and on Neon’s last journey down the court Holland faked an outside shot and then drove, hoping to score and draw a foul. She made the basket, but Black avoided contact and won, 66-65.
The winners wound up with 12 points from Williams, 10 from Heck, and nine each from Day and Rafter. All in double digits on the losing end were Leahy (18), Quinn (17), Rule (11), and Holland (10), while Monzo came close with a total of nine points.
Neon and Black moved on to a rematch in the playoffs two nights later. Eight teams of the 13 in the league made the cut; for the eighth and final postseason spot, a tiebreaker gave Team Red the nod over a Forest Green team that included 2013 Germantown Academy grad Kiernan McCloskey (Lehigh). Both had 5-7 records in regular-season play.
Unfortunately, Red did not turn up at all for Thursday’s quarterfinals session, handing top-seeded Gold a ticket to a semifinal meeting with the winner of a bout between number two Pink and number seven Purple, the USciences team. As it turned out, Purple upset the two-seed by a single point, 57-56.
On another court, Neon Green and Black were meeting for the second time in 48 hours. As in the previous clash, Neon’s Rule fastened the first points on the scoreboard from three-point range. Louin added a triple of her own, and Quinn bagged two short jumpers from the lane and one free throw. Early on, senior Tori Arnao had scored a lay-up for Team Black, but they trailed 11-2 with two minutes left in the opening period.
Heck helped the Philly U. girls close out the quarter with a more manageable deficit, sandwiching a pair of midrange jumpers around a lay-up in transition. Black was only down 14-10 for the start of the second round, but former O’Hara buds Rule and Leahy stretched Neon’s lead to seven points (18-11) over the first five minutes of the new period.
A few minutes later, Team Black appeared to be facing a blow-out. Neon’s Quinn had canned a three-pointer, a bank shot from the foul line, a lay-up and a free throw, all in succession. Monzo added a score in transition and the score spread out to 28-11 with two-and-a-half minutes to go in the first half.
Black revived with Arnao’s and-one three-point sequence, and MSJ alum Jones followed up with a three-point field goal. A Louin lay-up got two points back for the leaders, but the half ended with a successful drive and a jumper from the right wing by Williams. Black had closed out the half with a 10-2 counterattack that brought the lead back down into single figures at 30-21.
Two foul shots by Arnao and a triple by Maher made it a four-point affair early in the third stanza. Later, the second of two buckets by senior Jackie McCarron had the summer Rams just two points behind, 33-31. Neon opened it up again thanks to a pair of free throws from both Louin and Quinn and a three-pointer by Louin.
Heck resurfaced with two 15-footers that kept Black from dropping out of contention. Still, Neon led by eight points in the final seconds of the third frame, and at the buzzer Quinn fired a line-drive from the three-point line. The shot had just enough of an arc to get the ball over the front of the rim, making it 47-36 at the three-quarter mark.
Over the first five minutes of the final period, Black’s Maher, a six-foot forward, lobbed in her second and third three-pointers of the evening, leading her squad back to within half-a-dozen points of the leaders (49-43). Neon then rotated in a substitution package that included starters Louin, Monzo, and Quinn, and the teams traded points up to a tally of 53-47. Monzo stuck from the paint, then her former MSJ teammate Jones canned a three-point shot for Black from the right wing.
That closed up the margin to five points at 55-50, but after Quinn hit a transition lay-up with two minutes left, neither squad scored the rest of the way and Neon advanced, 57-50. Neon got the game high of 26 points from Quinn, and Louin and Monzo added 11 and eight points, respectively.
Heck had 14 for Team Black, and with all of their scoring coming from the three-point line, Maher and ex-Mountie Jones finished with nine and six points, respectively.
The winners garnered 16 points at the foul line with 75 percent shooting, while the summer Rams went seven-for-13 at the stripe.