by Tom Utescher

Drawing the short straw usually isn’t a good thing, but it worked out for the boys’ basketball team at Norwood Fontbonne Academy. When three teams were tied for fourth place – and the final berth in the Catholic Academies League playoffs – the Bears drew a short straw and took a break while the other two teams squared off in the first game of the play-in process.

Gwynedd Mercy Elementary defeated Devon Prep in that contest, then fell to host Norwood, 62-58, last Tuesday, as the Bears grabbed the fourth seed in the league tournament. The game was close the whole way, and the visiting Mustangs actually led at the end of each of the first three periods. Norwood tipped the balance in a 17-10 fourth quarter.

Gwynedd’s Conor Hogan, who dumped in a game-high 29 points, nailed three three-point field goals in the opening period to help his team take a 16-14 edge into the second stanza. Throughout the game, the concept of defense appeared to be an untested theory for both teams, as they romped up and down the court and piled up points.

Midway through the second quarter Gwynedd was on the verge of making a clean break from the Bears, leading 26-20, but Norwood stopped its slide with a free throw by Jack Quirk and a lay-up by another eighth-grader, Peter O’Malley. It was still a six-point game at halftime, when the Mustangs led 32-26.

Basketball is not the primary sport for a number of the Norwood players.

Quirk was a running back on Norwood’s highly successful football team last fall, and another starter on the hoop squad, Cameron Stephenson, was the Bears’ quarterback out on the gridiron. Yet another eighth-grader, Tyler Clark, is best known as a pitcher on the NFA baseball team.

A drive by Clark tied last Tuesday’s game at 41-all late in the third quarter, but by the end of the period Gwynedd had gone up again, 48-45. The Mustangs led for the last time at 55-53 with about two-and-a-half minutes left to play.

Quirk canned a 15-footer to tie it up, then Norwood immediately stole the ball back and moved ahead on a lay-up by Clark. Next, Clark made good on a drive along the right baseline, completing a 6-0 spurt that gave the hosts a 59-55 lead.

A short jumper at the one-minute mark got Gwynedd back within two, then Norwood committed its tenth team foul, sending the Mustangs’ Hogan to the line for two shots. He made the first but missed the second, and when the ball was tied up on the rebound, the Bears got possession. GME fouled Quirk, who hit both shots of a one-and-one with 23 seconds left, making it 61-58.

On Gwynedd’s next possession, the visitors missed both a three-point shot and a put-back attempt, and after that Quirk went to the foul line again, now with five seconds to go. His first toss put the final score of 62-58 on the board. The next shot missed and Gwynedd scooped up a loose-ball rebound, but the Mustangs had no chance to get off a viable shot.

The winners received double-digit scoring from Quirk (18 points), Clark (14), and Stephenson (10). O’Malley added nine points and the Bears got seven points from seventh-grader Liam Nester and four from eighth-grader Santino D’Angelo. Gwynedd was paced by Hogan, Jack Lake (10 points), and Ryan Wade (eight).

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