GA junior Kiernan McCloskey (right) will bend over backwards to grab a rebound for the Patriots. Last Friday she pulled down 26 of them, including this one against Archbishop Ryan’s Courtney Helm. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Germantown Academy lifted its record to 4-0 in the first game of its own annual Make-A-Wish Showcase last weekend, but the following night the Patriots suffered their first setback of the season at the hands of a Shipley School girls team that is definitely on the rise.

On Friday, GA pulled away from a scrappy Archbishop Ryan team in the fourth quarter to record a 41-28 victory. In a more freewheeling, high-scoring affair the following night, the Pats were down 27-24 at the half, but saw their deficit expand after that as the Shipley Gators went on to win, 61-45.

GA appeared frazzled at times during the second half on Saturday and coach Sherri Retif admitted, “We threw the ball away too much. I think we had 25 turnovers and that’s just way too many. There were spurts in the second half when we fought back, but not enough to really cut into their lead.”

For Shipley, the win over private school power GA was something of a milestone (the Bryn Mawr school lost to the Patriots in the finals of the Pa. Independent Schools Championships last season), but the Gators’ Make-A-Wish weekend fell short of perfection. In the final seconds of its Friday afternoon outing, Shipley (4-2 overall) was upset by Penn Charter, 45-42.

“We’re a young team and we have our ups and downs,” Gators coach Sean Costello said following Saturday’s victory. “Some games we look like we did tonight, and some games we look like we did last night.”

GA led throughout its game on Friday, but Ryan wouldn’t go away. Kalene Coffey, a junior shooting guard for the Ragdolls, led all scorers at halftime with 10 points, while GA’s own outside weapon, junior Natalie Toner, had nine. The Patriots were able to shut out Coffey entirely in the second half, and they led 30-20 at the three-quarter mark. Ryan rallied to 30-25, then the hosts put the game away.

A balanced attack resulted in 13 points for senior guard Jaryn Garner (who has committed to the University of Virginia), 11 for Toner, and 10 for junior forward Kiernan McCloskey. Juniors Dempsey Cooper (guard) and Mel Repella (forward) added four and three points, respectively. Despite her second-half drought, Coffey still emerged as the top scorer for Ryan, while fellow guard Megan Wolf had six points.

McCloskey ruled the boards in the Ryan game with 26 rebounds, but grabs off the glass did not come as easily the following night, when the junior wound up with 13 points and nine boards.

Shipley has had an impressive influx of young talent over the last two years (some of it from Coach Costello’s Philadelphia Belles AAU team), and down on the blocks the Gators started 6’2” sophomore Aja Ellison (daughter of the NBA’s Purvis Ellison), and 6’4” freshman Martine Fortune. Fortune was actually starting in place of injured sophomore shooting guard Colleen Walsh. GA was missing forward Angela Upright, who is in the final stages of recovering from knee surgery. The Pats certainly could’ve used the 6’2” junior on Saturday.

“Shipley’s big post players are intimidating,” said GA’s Retif. “We’ve been able to outrebound most of the teams we’ve played, but not tonight. They also shot really well early on and kind of captured the momentum of the game.”

Germantown broke the ice with a short jumper by Cooper, but sophomore guard Tamesha “Sox” Alexander answered for Shipley with a score off a steal. The Gators proceeded to go up 6-2, and they still led 16-13 at the end of the first quarter. It could’ve been worse; the Gators were ahead 16-6 before McCloskey and Garner pulled GA back from the brink.

Two minutes into the second round it was 20-15, then a three-pointer by Toner and a shorter jumper by junior guard Fran Sweeney tied it for GA. Once again Shipley moved ahead and GA had to counterattack, with the score settling in at 27-24 at halftime. Alexander had 10 points in the book for the leaders, and McCloskey matched that figure for the Patriots. By the first minute of the second quarter, McCloskey had also been able to draw two fouls from Ellison, who had to ride the bench after that.

Ellison’s presence was felt again when the third quarter got underway, as she hit two field goals to help the visitors stretch the lead to eight points (33-25) over the first three minutes. The margin was roughly the same at the end of the quarter, 42-35.

Throughout the evening the Patriots, including top rebounder McCloskey, were hoisting outside shots without a lot of success, and Shipley was usually corralling the rebounds.

“We weren’t crashing the boards enough on any of the three-point shots,” remarked Retif. “We were three-for-18 from the three-point line, and we didn’t get second shots.”

Shipley made another three-minute move when the fourth round began, getting a midrange jumper and two free throws from Alexander as part of a 7-1 run that made it 49-36, forcing a GA time-out with 4:49 left to play.

Toner had canned a pair of three-point buckets during the third quarter, but down the stretch she was floored several times by leg cramps.

Coming out of the Patriots’ time-out, McCloskey drove for a lay-up and Garner scored off a steal and added a free throw. That narrowed the gap to eight points (49-41), but GA would get no closer. Arriving at the foul double bonus with 2:20 remaining, Shipley scored its final eight points from the free throw line.

GA complemented McCloskey’s output with 10 points apiece from Garner and Toner, eight from Sweeney (five steals), and four from Cooper (five steals, three assists).

Shipley received 16 points from Alexander (six assists) and 15 from Ellison (11 rebounds), with nine points added by guard Asia Baker, a sophomore transfer from Episcopal Academy. Fortune (eight rebounds) and senior swing player Jordyn Turner scored eight points piece. A four-year varsity player, Turner was enjoying her first win ever over Germantown Academy.

“I’m really happy for her because it meant a lot,” said the Gators’ Costello. “Her leadership has been invaluable with all the young players we have.”

The Shipley mentor also praised the court control of Alexander at the point, and was encouraged by the effort of freshman reserve guards Meredith Maguire (three points) and Nia Holland (two).

A solid performance by the bench players helped the Gators keep running the floor throughout the evening, which was part of their game plan.

“GA likes to get up and down, and we talked about attacking them as much as we could. The goal was that if they scored a basket, we wanted to go right back at them. I was happy with the way we attacked the basket and didn’t settle for a lot of stuff outside.”

Coming off the loss, GA’s objectives were simply stated.

“We need to shoot the ball better and we need to take care of the ball,” Retif said. “We’ve got to cut back on the turnovers, or it’s going to cost us in games like this.”

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