by Tom Utescher

Regarded as the team most likely to end Germantown Academy’s 12-year reign as Girls Inter-Ac League champion, host Penn Charter lived up to its billing over the initial eight minutes of last Friday night’s basketball showdown.

GA’s Natalie Toner (left) seeks a path between Penn Charter’s Kristina Kubach (center) and Danielle Sienko (right). (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Not only did the Quakers lead 18-12 at the end of the first quarter, but three different GA Patriots had each picked up two personal fouls in the opening frame. The visitors delivered a decisive response, beginning the second quarter with a 17-1 surge that laid the foundation for a 31-23 halftime lead and, ultimately, a 65-46 victory.

Each team came into the contest with a 3-0 mark in league play; afterwards, GA was 11-2 overall, and PC was 12-2.
“It was a game of runs, but the girls were very focused on just doing their jobs,” remarked Patriots coach Sherri Refif. “Each of them had their own role and they trusted one another; these girls play such ‘team’ basketball.”

“It’s an emotional loss – they’re our biggest rival,” admitted PC skipper Diana Caramanico, a 1997 GA graduate. “Our biggest problem was just making shots. We had the looks, but the shots wouldn’t fall. We got them in foul trouble, but we didn’t shoot fouls well at all.”
After going seven-for-eight from the free throw line in the first quarter, PC was just three-for-10 the rest of the way.

Caramanico commented, “A made shot here or there could’ve changed the direction of the game; I don’t look at as a 19-point loss.”
Her ballclub did a relatively good job defending against 6’1” GA guard Alexa Gallagher, but the DePaul-bound senior supplemented her seven points with eight assists and eight rebounds. Sophomore forward Kiernan McCloskey booked a double-double in points (14) and rebounds (13) for the victors, while senior Monica Schacker notched 13 points and junior Jaryn Garner gathered 12 points, four rebounds, four assists, and four steals.

Each of the Inter-Ac rivals was playing without an important reserve player; PC senior Kendall Stokes and GA sophomore Dempsey Cooper, both guards, were out of action with injuries.

Originally scheduled for the afternoon, the confrontation was moved to 7:30 PM, and GA senior forward Dana Lotito related “The girls on the team went out together after school. We didn’t do anything special; we just hung out and had some team bonding time.”

A capacity crowd that included a fervent PC student section at one end of the bleachers dialed up emotions right from the start of the game, and an intentional foul was actually called in the first minute. Charter inched ahead 7-5, then GA scored the next seven points for a 12-7 advantage. PC’s junior center, Dianna Thomas-Palmer, went four-for-four at the foul line, while classmate Brianna Butler, a shooting guard, made both her free throws and canned a three-pointer as the Quakers jumped ahead. Yet another PC 11th-grader, Danielle Sienko, cut along the baseline, grabbed a pass from senior point guard Aleesha Powell, and hit a lay-up just before the buzzer to hand the hosts an 18-12 lead at the quarter. Already, three GA players had committed two fouls each; Garner, Lotito (eight points total), and reserve forward Angela Upright.

Penn Charter fans noisily support their team during Friday night’s duel with archrival Germantown Academy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Lotito, who will attend the College of William and Mary, said that when the Patriots huddled up between quarters, “We talked about keeping our composure and not getting down on ourselves. We talked about playing our game and controlling the tempo.”

Coach Retif added “We kept telling them not to let the crowd get into their heads. In the second quarter Natalie Toner came in, and that helped pick up the tempo and allowed us to rest Jaryn [Garner]. That was the catalyst for our running game.”

A sophomore guard who finished with nine points for the Pats, Toner bagged a three-pointer from the right wing and hit both ends of a one-and-one at the foul line during Germantown’s pivotal rally. The first- quarter count stayed on the board more than a minute into the second period, then Schacker shoved in a “three” from the left flank.

PC committed back-to-back turnovers, one leading to a Garner lay-up, and later Gallagher made one of two free throws to fashion an 18-all tie with 4:43 remaining in the first half. Thomas-Palmer’s second foul was PC’s seventh team infraction, but GA’s Garner hit the floor hard on the play and was unable to shoot the free throws. Schaker stepped to the foul line instead, making both shots on the one-and-one and pushing the Pats ahead for good, 20-18, with 4:26 on the clock.

A converted rebound by McCloskey and Toner’s trey made it 25-18 before PC put up its first point of the period, a free throw by Butler at 2:16. After a one-and-one cashed in by Toner, a refreshed Garner stole the ball and nailed a pull-up jumper from the lane. PC’s Powell got those four points back for the Quakers, but the half ended with two made foul shots by Germantown sophomore Fran Sweeney.

From the 31-23 halftime tally, the teams traded points up to 36-28 in the early minutes of the third quarter. McCloskey reinforced the visitors’ lead with a pair of three-pointers in the middle of the period, and although Charter’s Powell struck twice from beyond the arc later on, GA still added three points to the margin during the third round, which ended at 52-41.

As the fourth quarter dawned Patriot field goals by Gallagher and Lotito bracketed a long three-pointer by PC’s Butler. With 5:30 to go, Sienko hit a lay-up for Charter to make it a 10-point game (56-46), but the hosts didn’t score again as GA collected the final nine points of the night.

It turned out that Butler sprained an ankle during the evening, but she still scored a game-high 20 points for the Quakers, who received 13 points from Powell, eight from Thomas-Palmer, four from Sienko, and one from junior MaryKate O’Brien.

“I felt the keys to the game would be boxing out on rebounds, taking care of the ball under pressure, and being able to run the floor ourselves while stopping them from running,” offered GA’s Retif.

Penn Charter’s Caramanico concluded, “On defense we needed to do a better job of eliminating their shooting opportunities. They’re very efficient. If you give them open shots, they hit them, which is something we need to do more of the time.”

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