by Tom Utescher

Senior Marykate O’Brien made a successful drive to the basket in the final seconds to help Penn Charter get past Shipley last weekend. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

After starting their 2011-2012 basketball season with a 2-1 record in three very lopsided contests, the girls of Penn Charter had their two games last weekend decided by a total of just four points.

In the first of these two battles at Germantown Academy’s Make-A-Wish Showcase, the Quakers captured a 45-42 victory on Friday afternoon, beating Shipley School on a last-second lay-up. The next day at GA, Charter made up a huge early deficit against Archbishop Ryan, but lost 44-43, heading home with an overall record of 3-2.

Commenting on the close outcomes of the recent outings, first-year PC coach David Bass said “I think that’s going to be the way it goes with our tough schedule. Our team is young, and as we gain experience with these tight games, the hope is that we’ll come out on top in more and more of those situations.”

The first few days of Penn Charter’s season had been a study in contrasts. The PC players weren’t truly tested as they easily captured the championship at the Germantown Community Tournament on the second weekend of the month, then on December 13 they entered the den of the Cardinal O’Hara Lions and got mauled, 69-27. It was a blunt wake-up call for the Quakers; the cakewalks were behind them.

At the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, Penn Charter routed Shipley in a non-league match-up, but a few months later the Gators ended Charter’s season by upsetting the Quakers in the Pa. Independent Schools Tournament. PC had received 22 points from All-American Brianna Butler in that game, but Butler transferred to a New York school at the beginning of the current academic year.

Shipley appeared to be the favorite for Friday’s meeting, but the Quakers showed themselves during the first half that they could hang with the Gators, only trailing 25-24 at the break. PC had gained a one-point edge by the end of the third period, and seven minutes later it appeared that the contest could be headed for overtime at 42-all.

Shipley had possession, but launched an errant shot with 10 seconds to go, giving Charter one more chance to decide the issue in regulation. Senior point guard Marykate O’Brien took the ball right to the hoop, hitting a lay-up and drawing a foul in the process. Knocking down the free throw, she sealed a three-point victory for PC.

O’Brien and eighth-grader Ayanna Matthews each came away with eight points, while senior Danielle Sienko scored 10 points and Matthews’ eighth-grade classmate Hannah Fox added a free throw. The game-high 18 points belonged to the Quakers’ big senior center, Hofstra signee Dianna Thomas-Palmer.

“Dianna’s getting a lot of attention from everybody we play,” Bass observed. “She’s getting double and triple-teamed, and we’re learning to play off of that.”

The two double-digit scorers for Shipley were sophomores Aja Ellison (13 points) and Tamesha Alexander (10).

Charter’s Thomas-Palmer produced 12 points and 11 rebounds against Archbishop Ryan the following day. She drew a lot of fouls as the Ragdolls tried to stop her; PC was already in the double bonus less than 10 minutes into the action. The Quakers’ defense, on the other hand, was lit up by Ryan’s junior sharpshooter, Kalene Coffey, who fired four three-pointers and hit two free throws to give her club a 14-0 lead over the first five minutes.

“Their number 32 [Coffey] was a real good shooter, and I didn’t see that as much last night,” said PC’s Bass, who had scouted Ryan’s game against Germantown Academy on Friday.

Coffey canned another trey before the first round ended, accounting for all of the Ragdolls’ points in a 17-4 opening quarter. It didn’t help that the Quakers had missed each of their first five foul shots.

“Yesterday against Shipley, we were able to hit more shots from the floor, and we did a better job from the foul line,” Bass pointed out. “We only went seven-for-17 from the line today.”

The Quakers seemed emotionally flat at the outset, perhaps still basking in the afterglow of the Shipley win. They were still down by a dozen approaching the intermission, but their two eighth-graders hooked up on the last basket of the half, with Matthews feeding the ball ahead for a fast-break lay-up by Fox. That made it 25-15 at the break.

It was in the early phase of the third quarter that Charter truly got back in the game. Ryan’s Coffey popped from the perimeter to draw first blood, but then Thomas-Palmer and Sienko each scored a lay-up and a basket off an offensive rebound. A short jumper by Sienko completed a 10-0 surge for Charter, who now trailed 28-25.

After some give-and-take during the remainder of the period, PC was still behind by three points, 34-31, for the start of the final round.

From a few steps to the right of the top of the key, the Quakers’ Fox tied the game with a three-pointer on the first shot of the fourth quarter. Ryan quickly recaptured the lead on a drive by guard Megan Wolf, who scored all of her seven points in the second half and pulled four rebounds.

O’Brien had been hit with her fourth personal foul near the end of the third frame, and she returned to the Charter line-up with a little under four minutes left to play in the game, when the Ragdolls led, 41-37. The tally seesawed to 43-39, then O’Brien nailed both ends of a one-and-one with 41 seconds remaining. Next, Ryan’s Taylor Adair made the first of two tosses from the line, and PC’s Thomas-Palmer grabbed the rebound of the second attempt. The clock dipped under 20 seconds with the score now 44-41.

Thomas-Palmer rebounded a missed jumper by one of her teammates at the other end, going back up to score. It was now a one-point game, but the clock showed only 1.7 seconds, and the encounter ended on a long inbounds pass by the Ragdolls.

With seven three-pointers and a total of 23 points, Ryan’s Coffey led all scorers, and Sienko (four rebounds, two assists) paced PC with 15 points. Fox furnished nine points for the Quakers, and Matthews had five points and five rebounds.

“I hope we’ve learned that you’ve got to come prepared to play from the start,” said Bass. “I would rather have had two wins up here at GA, but I’m okay with the performance. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re a little more consistent, and that we play the right way for longer periods of time.”

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