Penn Charter’s Kaitlyn Hnatkowsky (left) brings the ball upcourt while being guarded by Kaylee Griffin of St. Philip Neri School. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Penn Charter’s Kaitlyn Hnatkowsky (left) brings the ball upcourt while being guarded by Kaylee Griffin of St. Philip Neri School. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

As in 2015, fans of the host school got to root for one of their own basketball teams in the finals of this year’s Norwood Fontbonne Academy Snowball Tournament.

A year ago, it was the girls’ team for the NFA Bears that fought through to the championship game before falling to St. Genevieve School of Flourtown. Last week, the Norwood boys made into the 2016 finals on Sunday morning, going up against St. Philip Neri of Lafayette Hill.

The strong Saints squad overpowered Norwood, 51-22, but the girls’ championship game that followed featured a much more dramatic finish.

Back in the title bout once more, St. Gen’s looked like they were going to lose by double digits to the St. Philip girls, who led 39-26 at the three-quarter mark. St. Gen’s staged a fierce rally to tie the contest at 41-all with a little over a minute remaining, but couldn’t score again as the Saints went back in front with three-for-four foulshooting and then tacked on a lay-up for a 46-41 victory.

In their first tournament game, the Norwood Fontbonne girls were topped by St. Gen’s, 36-31, but later they won a consolation game over Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 29-9. SCH did not enter a boys team in the tourney, but Penn Charter had both male and female Quakers participating. The ladies lost to St. Philip and then ground out a one-point win in the consolation round, while the boys won big in their opener before succumbing to St. Philip, 66-56, in an exciting semifinal game in the main draw.

This was Norwood’s 43rd annual Snowball tourney, and as usual it was a well-organized, well-run affair, with a P.A. announcer and DJ to keep things lively, and the wonderful concession stand that has become just as much of a draw as the action on the court. There’s no mystery why this event outshines many similar high school gatherings; it’s a product of an immense degree hard work and dedication on the part of school staff and parents who are eager to uphold a proud community tradition.

The 2016 tournament got underway with a pair of games last Wednesday evening. The girls of Andorra’s Immaculate Heart of Mary School (IHM) owned an 11-9 lead at the end of the first quarter in the opening game, but St. Gen’s pulled ahead in a 17-10 second period and went on to win 49-37. Rileigh Serroni poured in a game-high 23 points for the victors, while IHM was paced by Becca Arnold, who scored 13.

The IHM boys had a really rough ride, as they were simply overpowered by a talented Penn Charter squad that rolled to a 23-6 lead in the first quarter. The 51-12 final tally included 13 points by PC’s Justice Williams, 10 from Aaron Reisman, and eight from Kelsey Kline. John Flood and Lou Fresta each scored four points in the losing cause.

The tournament action resumed on Thursday with back-to-back girls’ games. Anastasia Kormos and Anna Schools posted 12 and nine points, respectively, as Holy Rosary got past the middle school varsity from Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. SCH marked down six points apiece for Dakota Carter, Maya Gerlach, and Reya Seifert.

Another Inter-Ac school, Penn Charter, took the court against St. Philip, and although the Lafayette Hill ladies eventually won by 10 (49-39) this was a high-intensity affair most of the way. St. Philip eventually pulled away after entering the final quarter with a modest 34-30 advantage.

The victorious Saints got a lot of production from the DiLello sisters, Sarah (23 points), and Charlotte (eight), while ubiquitous point guard Kaylie Griffin rang up 11. For the second game in a row, there was an “Anastasia” on the court. Anastasia Lewis and Anne Flemming each scored seven points for the Quakers, who got a team-high nine points from Hayley Hunt.

The cast of characters in this game made it a little “who’s who” of Philly basketball. PC’s Kaitlyn Hnatkowsky has an 11th-grade sister, Lexi, who is a starting guard for the Penn Charter varsity team, and the mother of St. Philip floor marshal Griffin is St. Joseph’s University head coach Cindy (Anderson) Griffin.

The Hawks’ mentor was in the stands, watching her daughter perform under the direction of SPN coach T.J. Lonergan. He’s the son of Tom Lonergan, Cindy Griffin’s former high school coach at Bishop McDevitt in Glenside. The other coach of St. Philip’s is Cathy (Hebling) Peduzzi, who was a standout as a player at Germantown Academy and American University.

The last game on Friday featured the first appearance by a team from the host school, as the Norwood “Blue” boys squad took the court. Essentially a varsity “B” team that was playing its very first game, this bunch of Bears struggled against Holy Rosary, which charged to a 60-4 win. Paul Paluba, with 16 points, and Max Hitman, with 10, headed a list of 10 scorers for the winning side, while Charles Lynch and John Pease provided the four points for NFA Blue.

The regular Norwood varsity teams went into action on Friday, but unfortunately for Bears fans, the girls and the boys succumbed to St. Gen’s and St. Philip, respectively. Behind 22-19 at halftime, the Norwood girls were still just three points down late in the third quarter, but two late field goals by Serroni sent St. Gen’s into the final frame with a 32-25 lead. The Flourtown team would go on to win, 36-31, as Serroni finished with 16 points and Anna McTameney added 13. Maddie Burns was the offensive engine for NFA with a game-high 22 points, and Kristen Neill contributed five points.

The Norwood “Gold” boys team led early thanks to a three-pointer by John Burke, but the Saints quickly took over the lead and were ahead 16-7 by the end of the first period. St. Philip continued to increase its lead, and although the Bears played better after halftime, they ended up on the short end of a 48-26 final tally.

Like most opponents, Norwood’s Sam Pié (#53) and Sebastian Tilley (#25) found it hard to stop St. Philip Neri’s Emerson Abromavage (shooting ball). (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Like most opponents, Norwood’s Sam Pié (#53) and Sebastian Tilley (#25) found it hard to stop St. Philip Neri’s Emerson Abromavage (shooting ball). (Photo by Tom Utescher)

A balanced Saints attack was led by Cy’hree Walker and Emerson Abromavage, with nine and seven points, respectively. Burke, with 13 points, accounted for half of the home team’s total. In between the girls’ and boys’ games, members of the La Salle University women’s basketball team conducted a mini-clinic for youthful hoopsters, and the evening concluded with the annual Norwood Fontbonne alumni game.

A full slate of action on Saturday started with Norwood’s “Blue” boys’ team yielding to IHM, 41-4, in a game in the consolation bracket. Flood and Cole Quigley scored six points apiece while Jason Kelly netted a game-high 10 points. Pease and Kevin Comerford each had a basket for the Bears.

Because there was not a full quarterfinal bracket for the boys’ teams at the tournament, Norwood’s “Gold” Bears got a second shot at making the finals, despite their setback on Friday. In Saturday’s second contest, Holy Rosary led the host team 17-11 at halftime and still was ahead by six points at the three-quarter mark. The Bears roared back, with Patrick Fehm scoring 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter as Norwood pulled out a 44-40 win. Mike Marable scored eight points for NFA, which is coached by former Penn Charter girls varsity hoops mentor David Bass. Holy Rosary received 10 from Ryan Sucro and eight from Aidan Kelly.

Next up was a pair of consolation games for the girls. Penn Charter was up 18-12 at halftime, but IHM staged a serious rally as Arnold scored all of her nine points in the game after the intermission. PC hung on for a 40-39 victory thanks to a game-high 18 points by Hnatkowsky and six by Lewis. Ceara Grady finished with 10 points to lead the IHM scorers.

The SCH girls, who had put up two-dozen points in their Thursday game, really struggled on offense in their consolation bout against Norwood. NFA rolled to a 12-2 lead in the first quarter, as the Blue Devils were saved from a shutout by Tiara Jenkins’ lay-up with 12 seconds to go.

Both teams had trouble finding the net in a 4-3 second quarter, but then the Bears expanded on their 16-5 halftime lead to win 29-9. Burns again spearheaded the NFA attack with 12 points, while Shannon Friday scored seven and Ryan Hendrzak had six. SCH’s team high of three points came from Amber Stallworth.

Following a spate of JV games that occupied most of the afternoon (featuring an appearance by Penn Charter head soccer coach Bob DiBenedetto as assistant coach of the St. Philip girls), the last two semifinal games in the varsity main draw took place on Saturday evening.

In the girls’ game Anna Schools got Holy Rosary on the scoreboard first, then St. Philip edged ahead to lead 14-10 at the end of the first quarter and 25-18 at halftime. The gap would’ve been greater if the Saints had been more consistent at the free throw line.

Sarah DiLello hit back-to-back lay-ups to launch the third quarter, and her St. Philip squad took a 39-28 advantage into the final period. Holy Rosary made a late run with field goals by Schools and Shannon Archbold and a three-pointer by Kormos, forcing the Saints to call time-out with 2:21 left to play and the score now 42-35.

The Saints, who’d been missing outside shots, now drove at the hoop and drew fouls. They closed out the game with a little 5-2 spurt, going five-for-eight from the charity stripe to put the finishing touch on a 47-37 victory. The winners got 17 points apiece from Griffin and Sarah DiLello, and Charlotte DiLello chipped in with six. Schools led Holy Rosary with 11 points, and Shannon Archbold and Corinne Archbold furnished eight and six points, respectively.

Next, the St. Philip boys team also earned a 10-point margin of victory as they got past Penn Charter, 66-56. After the Saints stepped out to a 16-9 first-quarter lead, the Quakers almost held their own in the second round, getting edged 16-15 for a halftime score of 32-24.

St. Philip forward Dillon Trainer scored nine points in the first quarter and added two free throws early in the second round, but then had to leave the game with an ankle injury. Before he departed, PC had already gotten a rally started. Williams bagged a three-pointer and then hit a lay-up off of a steal, helping the Quakers close within two points of the leaders at 20-18.

A little later, a “three” landed by Charter’s Anthony Ciarrocchi moved PC ahead, 23-22, and his ball club went on to lead 32-24 at halftime. Five minutes into the third frame, the Saints had the gap down to six points, then Ben Mascio made it a one-point contest (44-43) with a three-pointer and a lay-up in transition. An exchange of lay-ups took Penn Charter into the fourth quarter clinging to a 46-45 edge.

A bucket off an offensive rebound and four-for-four foulshooting soon had the Saints in front, 51-46. The Quakers didn’t fade out of the picture, though, and inside of two minutes remaining a field goal by Marvin Harrison had them just two points back at 56-54.

A.J. McKee made a lay-up for the Saints off of a great pass by Mascio, and with the game now in its final minute, PC missed a three-point shot at the other end and had to start fouling to stop the clock. After the score seesawed to 60-56 with half-a-minute to go, Mascio went four-for-four at the foul line and then scored one last field goal off of a steal.

He scored 16 points altogether, and his teammates Trainor and Joe Jaconski wound up with 11 points each. Penn Charter received double-digit production from Harrison (14 points), Williams (12), and Reisman (11).

In the boys’ championship game on Sunday morning, St. Philip charged to a 12-0 lead over the first four minutes, getting half of its points from Abramovage on consecutive lay-up-and-one plays. With 2:39 left in the opening period, Jon Irvine went to the hoop to get Norwood on the scoreboard.

Late in the second quarter, the Saints were ahead 28-2, but a breakaway bucket by Marable and two free throws by Burke helped the Bears triple their total by halftime, when the count was 30-6. At the break, Abramovage already had 14 points in the book, and Adam Rocks had added five.

Making liberal use of their reserves in the second half, the Saints were content to outscore NFA 20-18 during the last two quarter. The Bears began to perform better when they stopped thinking about the game score and just focused on taking things play-by-play.

Although Abromovage saw limited action in the second half and did not score, his earlier 14 points held up as the game high. St. Philip also got nine points from Adam Rocks, eight from Walker, seven from Michael Moore, and four from Ryan Flaherty. The Saints’ total was rounded out by a three-point effort from Justin Labrusciano and two points apiece from Mascio, McKee, and Ryan Coscia.

Leading Norwood were Colin Knight, with seven points, and Clarence Milton James, with three. The Bears recorded two points each for Burke, Fehm, Irvine, Marable, Sam Pié, and Peter DePaul III.

As the girls’ final got underway (appropriately, at high noon), St. Gen’s got three baskets from the paint in the first quarter from forward Aileen Murray, but eight points by Sarah DiLello powered St. Philip to a 15-10 advantage by the end of the period. The Saints then pulled away in a 13-5 second frame, as Griffin demonstrated her versatility by hitting a jumper from the right elbow, a pair of free throws, and a breakaway lay-up off of a steal.

From the halftime figure of 28-15, the score seesawed up to 39-26 as the third quarter produced an 11-11 draw. Sarah DeLello added seven points to her total during that period, but a weakness in the Saints’ rebounding game was exposed at the other end of the court. Most of St. Gen’s 11 points in the third round had come on four baskets off of offensive rebounds coming from three different players.

A few minutes into the final period, St. Philip still led by double figures, 41-30. Now St. Gen’s McTameney, a seventh-grade forward, asserted herself. Fouled, she made both free throws, and in the following possession she cashed in on an offensive rebound. Next, she stole the ball back and scored a lay-up. When teammate Lilliana Graham made one of two foul shots with a little over two minutes left, St. Gen’s was back within four points, 41-37.

The Saints spread out into a four-corners formation, but St. Gen’s Serroni stole the ball and raced downcourt to score. St. Philip then turned the ball over again with a backcourt violation. Up on offense. St. Gen’s sent up a short jumper from the right baseline. The shot missed, but St. Philip had no rebounders at all on the weak side. One of two St. Gen’s players waiting there, Lauren Slovensky, grabbed the rebound and hit a lay-up, tying the score at 41-all with 1:16 remaining.

St. Philip edged ahead again as Sarah DiLello made the second of two foul shots with 1:11 on the clock. Early in the final minute, an apparent St. Gen’s lay-up was negated by a walking call. DeLello was fouled, and made a pair of free throws to give her squad a three-point cushion. She then stole the ball back for St. Philip and got it to Lily McGrorty, who was fouled and went to the line in a double-bonus situation with 21.3 seconds left.

She missed both attempts, but redeemed herself by charging down the lane, wrenching the rebound of the second shot away from an opponent, and putting in a lay-up. St. Gen’s then missed the final shot of the contest, and Griffin scooted inside to snatch the rebound and run out the clock.

She wound up with a dozen points in the title bout, while Sarah DiLello led all scorers with 22 points and her sister Charlotte scored four. McGrorty also notched four points, and the Saints got two apiece from Ally Zorty and Jules Herbetko.

Scoring in double digits for St. Gen’s were Serroni (13 points), McTameney (12), and Murray (10), and two points apiece came from Graham, Slovensky, and Angela Adelsberger.