by Tom Utescher

The Mount’s Steph Smith (right) holds her ground as Lindsay Fluehr of Nazareth Academy leaps for a lay-up. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Outside of their borrowed gym at Holy Ghost Prep, an ebullient bunch of Nazareth Academy Pandas was dancing to music emanating from senior Lindsay Fluehr’s Corolla prior to last Thursday night’s Catholic Academies basketball showdown with visiting Mount St. Joseph.
Unfortunately for the MSJ Magic, the Pandas were back out in the parking lot performing in much the same manner after the game, celebrating a 31-30 upset of the league-leading Mounties.

For the Magic, it was the first loss in the 12 Athletic Association of Catholic Academies games they’ve played so far, and their overall record slipped to 18-2. Nazareth, which trailed by seven points early in the second quarter but was back within two by halftime, went on to lift its record to 9-2 in the AACA and 14-6 overall.

The one-point win for the Pandas came right on the heels of a one-point loss; Nazareth was beaten, 35-34, by Episcopal Academy in the Blue Chip showcase event on January 30. Mount St. Joe was coming off of a 46-29 league victory over Sacred Heart on Tuesday. In the first meeting between the Mount and Nazareth this season, the Magic won on their home court, 40-32, on January 11.

Last Thursday the Mount led Nazareth, 6-5, in the middle of the opening period, then junior Cailin Schmeer made the first of two free throws and senior Mary Jo Horgan ended the period with a driving lay-up and a jumper from just beyond the foul line to make it 11-5.
With a free throw raising the tally to 12-5 early in the second quarter, the Magic had a chance to grow a significant lead, but didn’t shoot well from the foul line or the field. After Horgan’s jumper late in the first round, the Magic only scored two field goals in the next 12-and-a-half minutes, while missing out on five possible points from the foul line.

“We only shot seven-for-15 from the foul line tonight, and we shot something like 11 for 35 from the floor,” admitted MSJ coach John Miller. “We didn’t do ourselves any favors there; to beat a good team you’ve got to shoot better than that.

“On defense we held them to 31 points,” he continued. “That’s usually enough to win, although I told the girls we needed to do a better job getting over those screens, because Nazareth was hitting a decent amount of three-point shots.”

From seven points down, the Pandas began to rally with a “three” by junior Danielle Gaspari, and later a trey by senior Maggie Borski ended the half, with Nazareth now just two points behind, 18-16. The hosts crept even closer in the third round, and at the beginning of the fourth quarter a short baseline jumper by Nicole Dombrowski gave the Pandas their first lead (26-25) since the opening minutes of the contest. Horgan rebounded her own shot to score for the Magic and a free throw by Smith made it 28-26 in the visitors’ favor, then Nazareth went ahead for good when Gaspari popped in her third three-ball of the night with 4:29 remaining in the game.

After Ashley Adams’ transition lay-up reinforced the lead (31-28), MSJ junior Bridget Higgins fouled out with 3:03 on the clock. Horgan would commit her fourth personal foul later in the final frame.

“There were times when we lost our composure,” Coach Miller reflected, “times when we committed fouls out of frustration, and that sort of thing.”

Smith pivoted past her defender to deposit a lay-up with 2:21 to go, fixing the final score at 31-30. Nazareth drained the clock by holding the ball, but MSJ freshman Alex Louin stole it back near midcourt, and the Mount immediately called time-out with 43 seconds left. Another 30 seconds went by before the Magic launched an errant three-point shot, and the miss was rebounded by Nazareth’s Nicole Perri.

With 11.7 seconds to go, an MSJ foul sent the Pandas’ Fluehr to the foul line for a one-and-one. The first shot missed and the rebound went to Magic junior Maddie Kohler. The Mount came up the floor and tried to lob the ball in to Smith in the middle of the lane, but the pass overshot the mark and wound up in the hands of Nazareth’s Borski as the final seconds trickled away.

“We know on a missed shot to run our fast break offense,” Miller commented, “but we came down the court and just kind of freelanced. We didn’t set up in our fast break offense and there were four white [Nazareth] jerseys all around Steph.”

Borski and Gaspari rang up 10 points each to lead Nazareth, which received three from Fluehr, and two points apiece from Adams, Dombrowski, Perri, and Jessica Sylvester. Smith and Horgan each scored 11 points in the losing cause, with three points added by Kohler, two apiece by Higgins and Louin, and one by Schmeer.

Smith committed to Loyola College (Md.) last summer, and Horgan recently confirmed that she’ll sign with Lehigh University.

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