Appearing to emulate kickboxer Jean-Claude Van Damme, Springside sophomore Gianna Pownall (right) soars through the air toward Neumann Goretti guard Adriana Sciascia. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher
In the finals of its own Holiday Basketball Tournament, Springside School expected to encounter stiff resistance from Neumann Goretti High School, but the host Lions were clearly ready. Forcing eight turnovers from the Saints in the first period alone, Springside acquired a 16-3 lead over those initial eight minutes of last Wednesday’s championship game, laying the foundation for a 44-28 victory.

In the semifinal games a day earlier, Neumann Goretti had knocked off Bishop Walsh High School of Cumberland Maryland, while Springside topped Philly’s own John W. Hallahan High School.

Scoring 29 points in her two tournament appearances, junior swing guard Sydni Epps of Springside was named MVP of the affair, and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Lions junior forward Elana Roadcloud, Neumann Goretti forward Omowumi Rafiu and guard Adriana Sciascia, guard Ashley Turnbull of Bishop Walsh, and Hallahan guard Myeshia Matos.

Looking back on the start of the season roughly a month earlier, Epps remarked, “We’re playing so much better now; we’re working together better as a team. We consider communication on the court a key for us, and that’s improved a lot.”

Over the early weeks of the 2010-2011 campaign, each of the two seniors on the team went down with an injury and junior Alexis Giovinazzo was unexpectedly thrust into the role of starting point guard. Young players such as sophomore guard Gianna Pownall and freshman center Erin Garner have been called upon to make major contributions.

Since opening the season with out-of-state losses to two Maryland teams that have held national rankings, the Lions have gone 9-0.

Epps explained, “Our feeling was that after that first weekend down at that tournament in Maryland, we weren’t looking at people as freshmen or sophomores or whatever. You’ve made the varsity team, so you’re expected to perform as a varsity player.”

With so many basketball tournaments scheduled during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, it’s difficult to get good match-ups in every game of a given event.

As Springside’s holiday tournament opened on Tuesday evening, the host Lions romped to a 42-10 halftime lead against Hallahan, then continued to widen the gap until the scoreboard came to rest at 71-22.

Springside prevailed with a blend of speed and size, the speed coming from Epps, with 17 points, five rebounds, and four assists, and the size personified by the 6’3” Garner, with 15 points, 10 boards, and four blocked shots. Also scoring in double figures were Roadcloud (14) and junior power forward Michelle Boggs (10), while the rest of the Lions’ total came from three guards, Pownall (seven points), junior Aly Markey (four), and freshman Julia Schumacher (four).

Leading the Mickey Mice of Hallahan were Matos, with seven points, and Kystin Franz, with four.

In the tournament’s third-place consolation game on Wednesday, a late rally by Hallahan fell short, and Bishop Walsh prevailed, 63-51. The two All-Tournament players in that contest produced similar results, as Turnbull wound up with a game-high 22 points for the victors, while Matos scored 21 for Hallahan.

At the end of last season, the Springside team attended the annual tournament at Bishop Walsh, an event which also attracted some high-powered programs from Baltimore and Washington D.C. to the mountains of western Maryland. The Lions returned the favor by inviting their friends from south of the Mason Dixon Line to the holiday tournament here. To the delight of the home crowd, the Bishop Walsh contingent in the stands gave a hearty cheer of “Springside!” as the Lions came off the court at halftime of the championship game.

The meeting between the Lions and Neumann Goretti in the finals was also a sort of Cardinal Dougherty High School reunion, as each team fielded several players who’d been on the Cardinals’ hoop squad last winter, prior to the permanent closing of the school in June. The former CD players for Springside were juniors Boggs and Roadcloud and senior Brenna Coll (who is just coming off the injured list following a high-ankle sprain), while Saints juniors Jackie Crowley and Amanda Vassallo also originally played for Dougherty.

After the Lions’ Pownall put her team up 3-0 with a driving lay-up and an accompanying free throw, Springside never trailed, going up 8-1 before Crowley scored the Saints’ lone field goal of the first quarter. The host team’s defense kept forcing turnovers from the visitors, and Roadcloud nudged the count to 9-3 with a free throw before Epps finished the quarter with a flourish, spreading the score to 16-3.

In the last two minutes, she lofted a three-pointer from the left wing, sliced inside for a running lay-up, and then wowed the crowd at the buzzer with an unlikely running bank shot from about 17 feet out on the right side.

Garner and Boggs went to work in the paint, and three minutes into the second period the Lions led 23-4. The Saints needed to get more touches inside for the 6’2” Rafiu, and they succeeded late in the opening half as the Nigerian import hit two lay-ups and a pair of free throws.

However, the Lions had the last word in the second quarter, as they had in the first. Sophomore guard Maddi Hinchey (another Springsider who missed a number of early games due to injury) drove the lane with two seconds left to give the locals a 29-13 lead at halftime.

Although Springside limited Rafiu to just two points when play resumed, guard Maureen Fiocca came on to score all of her seven points for the night during the second half. Still, Neumann Goretti shaved only one point off its deficit in the third quarter, which ended at 37-22.

With 2:41 left to play, Fiocca’s final lay-up of the night got the Saints within 13 points of the leaders (39-26), but the Lions’ Garner scored from underneath the basket and then assisted on an Epps lay-up to widen the gap once more.

Epps ended up with an even dozen in the scoring column and Garner combined 11 points with seven rebounds. Roadcloud led the Lions on the boards with eight grabs and deposited five points, while Boggs logged four points, six rebounds, and four assists. Pownall scored nine points and Giovinazzo chipped in with a free throw for the tourney champs.

Rafiu finished with nine points for the Saints, and Crowley added six.

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