by Tom Utescher
For the fifth year in a row, Germantown Academy ended the girls’ basketball season with a loss to Shipley School in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament.
In last Friday evening’s encounter in the semifinals of the 2018 playoffs, second-half foul trouble plagued the Patriots, as it had in each previous PAIS meeting between the teams since 2014. A little over a minute into the fourth quarter, top-seeded GA held a 41-40 edge over the number five Gators, but the Pats had also committed two quick fouls to put their opponents in the one-and-one bonus.
The period began with a 38-38 tie, but by outscoring Germantown 17-14 in the final frame, Shipley emerged with a 55-52 victory, moving on to the championship game and a 47-37 win over third-seeded Academy of Notre Dame. In the fourth quarter, GA collected one point from the free throw line, while Shipley netted 11.
Since late in the third quarter, the Patriots had not been able to fully employ one of its key starters, who’d picked up a fourth personal foul. Shipley’s Anna Camden, a 6’2″ junior who was literally and figuratively the Gators’ pivotal player, had acquired her second foul early in the second quarter. However, she would not commit her fourth infraction until less than two minutes remained in the game.
GA ended its season with a 25-5 record overall, having won its fourth straight Inter-Ac League title with a 12-0 sweep through the schedule. Shipley had had its difficulties during the regular season, and had suffered an upset loss to Moorestown Friends in the semifinals of the Friends Schools League tournament. The Gators came into last Friday’s semifinal with an 18-7 overall record and without injured freshman Breionna Dodson, who had been a starter at forward.
Back in 2014, GA defeated Inter-Ac champ Episcopal Academy in a PAIS semifinal game to move into the finals against Shipley. In the title bout, one of GA’s starting forwards picked up a third personal foul early in the second quarter. Two other Patriots forwards eventually fouled out of the game, while Shipley’s two primary “bigs” were each able to finish out the game with four personals apiece.
In 2015, GA won the Inter-Ac title, then once again faced Shipley in the PAIS championship game. With the teams one point apart early in the third quarter, the foul situation appeared favorable for GA at this early stage of the second half. The Pats had just one team foul to the Gators’ three, and a Shipley post player had picked up a third personal.
That Shipley forward would manage to make it through the game (the Gators had a short bench due to injuries), and by the first minute of the fourth quarter GA had surged past Shipley in team fouls, committing its sixth to put the Bryn Mawr bunch in the bonus the rest of the way.
The following year, Germantown completed a 12-0 charge through the Inter-Ac, but then fell to Shipley in just the quarterfinal round of the PAIS gathering. In the first half, one of the Patriots’ forwards picked up three fouls, but it was another starting interior player who would foul out in the second half. Netting six more points from the foul line in the fourth quarter than GA (nine to three), Shipley won by exactly six points, 56-50.
Germantown Academy shared the 2017 league title with Episcopal, then beat the EA Churchwomen in a dramatic PAIS semifinal. Earlier, experienced and reliable senior forward Lilly Bolen had been sidelined by an ACL injury. In the Indy Schools final, a young GA squad succumbed to the more experienced Gators, 52-47. Losing a player due to a fifth foul late in the final quarter, the Patriots had put Shipley into the bonus two-and-a-half minutes into the period, and the Gators capitalized by outscoring GA from the charity stripe 13-4 from that point on.
Naturally, the current GA ensemble didn’t want to dwell on these past episodes, but for those in the gymnasium of final-four host Westtown School, last Friday’s contest turned into another viewing of a basketball “Groundhog Day.”
Shipley started out aggressively, but two three-point field goals by GA junior guard Rachel Balzer had the Patriots just one point behind (9-8) more than halfway through the first period. After that, Gators freshman guard Sanaa Redmond nailed the second and third of her own three-point buckets, and Camden netted three regular field goals to help Shipley end the quarter with a 21-10 advantage.
As the second round got underway, lay-ups by sophomores Elle Stauffer and Jaye Haynes began an 8-0 Germantown rally that was capped by sophomore Sarah DiLello’s trey from the top of the key. The Patriots did not take over the lead, but they had gotten themselves back in contention. In the final seconds of the half, Shipley’s Camden scored on a put-back, helping her squad take a 29-25 lead into the locker room as she led all scorers with 12 points.
Two minutes after chalking up GA’s first field goal of the second half with an eight-foot jump shot, Haynes got herself wide open in the right corner and bagged a “three” that tied the game at 32-all with 4:15 left in the third quarter. Fouls were mounting on the Patriots, though. When they put Shipley in the bonus, the Gators still had just one team foul, although a few more were called on Shipley late in the third round.
An even more serious development for GA was that the valuable Stauffer picked up her third and fourth personals in rapid succession, acquiring the fourth with two minutes left in the third quarter.
One of the bright spots for GA was the play of 6’2″ freshman Becca Booth, who scored three times in the third period after GA first tied the score. Her last bucket knotted the score at 38-38 for the beginning of the game’s final chapter. Her opposite number, Shipley’s Camden, would only score one field goal from the paint in the second half.
Shipley guard Lauren Ross, a junior guard committed to St. Joseph’s University, began the fourth round with a free throw, then Balzer stuck a trey from the left wing. With 64 seconds elapsed, GA’s seventh team foul yielded one point from the line for Shipley, which went up 43-41 soon after that.
Booth drove the lane to score for GA and level the score at 43-43, the first of four ties in the concluding quarter. It was 49-49 heading into the last two minutes, and GA edged in front when Staffer put in one of a pair of free throws. This came on the fifth team foul of the half by the Gators, who were already in the double bonus themselves at this stage.
Camden deposited two free throws for a 51-50 Shipley lead, then with 51 seconds remaining Germantown took its last lead of the game when a pass by senior Cat Polisano set up Stauffer for a lay-up.
Shipley went up the court and into its offensive set, and eventually Ross drove in to score. The Patriots got the ball back across half court and called time-out with 10.7 seconds left and a 52-53 deficit.
GA had scored earlier on a high-low pass down the lane from senior Alexa Naessens to Booth. The Pats had a notion this type of play could work again, but this time the entry pass hit the bottom of the backboard and the ball went out of bounds to Shipley with three seconds to go.
Before the ball could be inbounded GA fouled Shipley’s Ross, who then made two free throws with three ticks still on the clock. After that, a desperate long-range heave by the Patriots strayed well off the mark, and Shipley celebrated.
Stauffer recorded 17 points and seven rebounds for the Patriots, who received 10 points from Booth, nine from Balzer, and seven from Haynes. Three points apiece from Naessens, Polisano, and DiLello rounded out GA’s final total.
Camden and Ross paced Shipley with 20 points apiece, while Redmond scored 13 and junior guard Liz Talluto had two.
The Gators, who have no seniors on their roster, won their fifth PIAS championship the following afternoon. GA will graduate Naessens, who will play for Colgate University, and Polisano, who is headed to Fordham.
The Patriots had a very deep bench this year, though, and most of the reserves saw a lot of playing time. They may very well be back next year to challenge for the Indy Schools title, which they last won in 2011.