by Tom Utescher
In an Inter-Ac League basketball game at Baldwin School last Tuesday, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy achieved both an individual goal and a team goal, but neither came easily.
SCH junior Nya Searight arrived in Bryn Mawr needing just four points to reach 1000 points in her high school career. Despite numerous touches in the opening quarter, only three points on free throws were forthcoming, but the Blue Devils’ high-scoring forward eventually broke through the 1000-point barrier with a lay-up in the middle of the second period.
At halftime, though, she and her teammates were behind 18-10 against a ball club they’d defeated 77-42 at the beginning of the month.
With a 20-7 third quarter turning things around for the Devils, they achieved the afternoon’s second objective, winning 39-31 to complete a season sweep of Baldwin. SCH improved to 4-5 in league play and 9-12 overall, extending to four games a win streak that included a league victory over Agnes Irwin and non-league wins against Lower Merion and New Jersey’s Absegami High School.
Baldwin’s head coach, Danny (Fraider) Furey, is the daughter of SCH Director of Girls Athletics Tina O’Malley. Due to injuries to two regular starters, a number of the Bears’ cubs have been thrust into the spotlight; up to four Baldwin eighth-graders were on the floor at once in last Tuesday’s contest.
One who was already starting is precocious guard Amaris Baker, who would put up a game-high 19 points against SCH and who kicked off the scoring
with a transition lay-up. A field goal by her eighth-grade classmate Taylor Levinson created a 4-0 advantage for Baldwin, which would lead until the middle of the third quarter.
SCH was looking for Searight, and Baldwin was looking to stop her. The Blue Devil junior could’ve reached 1000 points through free throws alone during the first four minutes, but she appeared nervous as she made one of her two shots each time on a pair of trips to the foul line. These run-ups to the 1000-point mark rarely go smoothly.
After Baldwin’s Rani Bleznak hit a short jumper to make it 8-2, Searight couldn’t find the hoop on a lay-up. She grabbed her own rebound, but then missed a follow-up shot. Baldwin was clearly keying on her, and when she drove the baseline toward the basket for her next attempt, the Blue Devils junior had her shot blocked by the Bears’ Anajah Brown.
It was Kniezeski who would score the visitors’ first field goal of the day, firing from just below the foul line with 41 seconds left in the quarter. Senior forward Chloe Burns stole the ball back for SCH at midcourt and thrust it ahead to Searight, who was fouled on a drive.
Neither of her two free throws would fall, but SCH rebounded the second miss and got Searight the ball down low again. Fouled once more, she made the second of two shots, drawing within one point of the four-digit mark with 18 seconds left in the period. Baldwin’s Baker had the last word, banking in a three-pointer from the left wing to end the first frame with an 11-5 advantage for the host team.
As the second quarter unfolded, a field goal from a little beyond the foul line by the Blue Devils’ Burns was matched by a lay-up in transition by Baker. About three minutes had gone by when Springside set up on offense and sent the ball down to Kniezewski out on the left baseline. She fed it straight inside to Searight, who put in a lay-up from the near side of the hoop to reach 1001 points with 4:57 left in the half.
“Nya’s got an ability to get into the cracks of the defense and get open looks,” SCH Matt Paul explained. “Overall, she’s raised expectations for the speed of play for us. Her talent level is high and the girls like to play with her. She’s super unselfish, and we’re happy to have her.”
Searight transferred into Springside Chestnut Hill at the start of this school year, and her former coach from John W. Hallahan High School was on hand at Baldwin to see her score her 1000th point. In her two years at Hallahan she piled up 726 points, and going into last Tuesday’s game she had produced 270 in a Blue Devils uniform.
Searight’s celebrated lay-up to exceed the 1000-point mark got the visitors within four points at 13-9, but they only managed a lone Burns free throw the rest of the way while Baker gave the Bears a three-pointer, a lay-up, and an 18-10 halftime lead.
“They have an outstanding young player who scored most of their points in the first half, so we wanted to contain her better in the second half,” the Blue Devils’ Paul remarked. “We wanted to raise our defensive intensity and get turnovers.”
Two guards, sophomore Steph DeAngelis and junior Emily McNesby, helped turn up the heat on Baldwin’s offensive transition. Searight put in a lay-up and McNesby banked in a three-pointer while Baker matched those five points for Baldwin in the initial three minutes of the third quarter. After that, though, the young Bears guard only scored two points the rest of the way.
DeAngelis and junior forward Destiny Rogers started a 12-0 SCH run with a baseline jumper and a basket from the paint. Searight then scored off of a steal of her own and off of one by DeAngelis, pulling the visitors even at 23-all with a little over three minutes to go in the third round.
The SCH streak concluded after two free throws and a drive down the lane by Searight. Baker then penetrated to score to end the Baldwin drought, but the period ended with a “three” from the left wing by DeAngelis, sending SCH into the fourth round with a 30-25 lead.
Field goals by Rogers, DeAngelis, and Burns helped the Blue Devils hold their lead as the score seesawed to 36-31 over the first six-and-a-half minutes of the fourth quarter. SCH was now in the foul bonus, and Searight hit the first shot of a one-and-one. For the final points of the afternoon, junior guard Joelle Bridges saved the ball from going out of bounds after a teammate’s missed shot, and sophomore Savannah Sweitzer grabbed it and scored.
Searight finished with 16 points and DeAngelis and Burns added seven and five, respectively. Rogers scored four points and McNesby three, while Kniezewski and Sweitzer each had two. Baldwin derived all of its points from players in ninth grade or below. Baker (19), Levinson (two), Bleznak (four) and Brown (four) are all eighth-graders, and Alex Loomis (two points) is just one year older.
“A road win in the league is always an accomplishment,” Paul summed up. “Winning becomes a mindset and we’ve won four in a row now. It’s good to see the girls’ hard work pay off.”