by Tom Utescher

With Notre Dame’s Molly Borghese (left) taking a low stance to prevent dribble penetration, Springside’s Aly Markey looks to pass the ball to a teammate. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

The Springside School Lions literally limped to the finish in the 2010-2001 basketball season, ending their campaign last week in the quarterfinals of the Pa. Independent Schools Championship.

The banged-up bunch beat visiting Abington Friends, 37-24, in an opening round game on Valentine’s Day, then the sixth-seeded Lions lost on Wednesday, 52-33, at third-seeded Academy of Notre Dame.

Both the Lions and the Irish played challenging non-league schedules this winter, and Springside ended its season on Wednesday with an overall mark of 14-13, while Notre Dame improved to 18-9.

Just about every team has players get hurt, but this season Springside could’ve opened its own injury ward. The Lions’ troubles began on December 11, just 26 seconds into the seventh game on their schedule. Senior point guard Shea Crotty, a new Springside student from New Zealand, went down while trying to stop a fast break, and suffered a season-ending ACL tear.

In early January, the Lions eked out a 34-33 win over Notre Dame, their first in decades. In a non-medical development, a 6’3” freshman left the team soon after that game. Now the injuries came thick and fast.

There were high-ankle sprains for both junior starter Sydni Epps and sophomore reserve Michelle Cybularz. Junior starter Elana Roadcloud, considered the team’s best defensive player by Springside coach Brian Morris, suffered a shoulder contusion, and concussions were diagnosed for junior power forward Michelle Boggs and sophomore guard Gianna Pownall, who had both been starters.

Sophomore guard Maddi Hinchey, who missed the first portion of the season due to injury, returned and then was sidelined briefly with an ankle sprain. A problem in the same joint took junior Brenna Coll off the active duty roster for a spell.

Coll, Epps, and Hinchey came back for the final stretch of the season, but the Lions were still a far different squad than they’d been a few months earlier.

“We started out the year with a lot of promise, a lot of talent,” mused Morris, who praised the determination his players displayed as they tried to work through all the troubles that beset the team.

At the start of last week, the Lions still had enough firepower to turn a 22-20 lead at the three-quarter mark into a 13-point win over AFS in the state tournament opener. Next up was Notre Dame, who had won the regular-season rematch with the Lions, 55-42, and then had become one of three teams to earn a bye in the first round of the state tourney.

Two seniors for the Irish, starter Colleen Olinger and reserve Katie Gerzabek, were both under the weather and saw limited playing time, but this paled in comparison to Springside’s physical woes. Nevertheless, the Lions were just one point behind at the quarter, 8-7, starting out with a three-pointer by Epps (seven points total) and then getting shorter jumpers from Hinchey and junior point guard Alexis Giovinazzo.

Notre Dame began the second period with treys by Olinger and sophomore Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and by the final minute of the first half the Irish has built up a 22-9 lead. Springside’s Coll chalked up her first point of the day from the free throw line, and Epps scored off the rebound of Coll’s errant second shot, making it 22-12 at the intermission.

Coll scored 17 of her game-high 18 points following the break, including three three-point field goals. The Lions weren’t able to reduce their deficit to single digits, though, as the Irish led 33-20 at the three-quarter mark, and then won a high-scoring fourth round, 19-13.

Fitzpatrick notched 11 of her 13 points over the first two quarters of the game, but after that fellow tenth-grader Megan McGurk delivered 13 of her team-high 17 points, and junior Molly Borghese scored eight of her 12 points in the second half.

Borghese, optimistically listed at 5’11”, is Notre Dame’s tallest player, but as coach Mary Beth McNichol says, “We’re used to playing against teams with that big girl in the middle; I thought we did a good job against Boggs [6’1”] the last time we played Springside. We know we’ve got to double down on them and we’re getting pretty good at it.”

McNichol, who recently rang up her 400 victory at Notre Dame, has been impressed with the depth of the Girls Inter-Ac League.

“The league is really good this year,” she observed, “This is probably the best talent in the league that I’ve seen in my 20 years.”

After the season swansong, Springside’s Morris said, “We came out thinking that there would be an opportunity for us to win a game. We made mistakes down the stretch at the start of the second half, with their pressure on the ball. Some younger players had to step in and they’re not used to certain situations against a very athletic and talented team.

Saying good bye to someone like Brenna – even only having her the one year – it was kind of tough in the locker room just now.”

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