Norwood’s Tanner Visco (left) and St. Genevieve’s Tim Cawley get ready to contend for a rebound. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Last weekend, Norwood Fontbonne Academy’s 39th annual Snowball Tournament held the interest of the home team’s fans until the very end, as the NFA boys won Sunday’s championship game, 49-41, over Andorra’s Immaculate Heart of Mary School (IHM). Receiving a 22-point effort in the final from eighth-grader Liam Nester, the Bears captured their first Snowball title since 1999.

Earlier on Sunday, the girls’ crown was claimed by St. Philip Neri of Lafayette Hill, which rallied from a halftime deficit to knock off the middle school varsity team from Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 40-30. A day earlier, SCH had ended the tournament run for the Norwood girls in a 29-15 semifinal game.

At halftime of each game in the four-day tournament, ace marksmen (and women) from the various teams participated in foul shooting and three-point shooting contests. For the girls, the free throw competition ended with a tie for first between Allison Marino of St. Philip, and Sabrina Forti of Epiphany of Our Lord (Plymouth Meeting). Meckensie Smith of Holy Family (Phoenixville) won the three-point contest and second place went to Molly Dugan, from St. Genevieve’s in Flourtown.

On the boys’ side, the most accurate shooter from three-point land was Epiphany’s Alex Mellon, while Kyle Chandler of St. Philip’s took second. Conshohocken Catholic’s Luke Mascio had the hottest hand from the foul line, and right behind him was Nester, of Norwood.

In the girls’ tournament bracket, SCH started out by beating Epiphany of Our Lord (Plymouth Meeting), 37-20, behind 16 points from Mikaela Watson and 12 from Marissa Pownall. Nester notched nine points and Cole Storm scored seven in the Norwood boys’ 44-11 defeat of Lafayette Hill’s St. Philip Neri, while the NFA girls rode a 16-point effort by Kara Celano to a 33-22 victory over IHM.

In other opening-round girls’ games on Thursday and Friday, St. Genevieve conquered Conshohocken Catholic, 29-14, and St. Philip felled Holy Family, 30-15. On the boys’ side, IHM rolled up a 48-30 win over Conshy Catholic, Epiphany overcame Holy Family, 40-28, and St. Gen’s jolted Holy Cross, of Mt. Airy, 52-20.

In the first of Saturday’s girls semifinals, 16 points from Marino, 14 from Jenny Murphy, and seven from Lizzie Bolger powered St. Philip past St. Gen’s, 44-30. Dugan rang up a game-high 18 points in the losing cause.

Norwood’s seventh grade center, Chloe Burns, turned an ankle in the Bears’ tourney debut, and her absence affected the other semifinal. Springside Chestnut Hill’s post presence, Watson, had her way in the paint. Six field goals and a free throw by the Lions eighth-grader helped SCH carry the first half, 20-7.

A Celano lay-up was the lone NFA field goal in the second half, so the Bears were unable to generate a comeback. Watson wound up with 13 points, Pownall with seven, and Singley Risico with three for the victors, while Celano scored nine points and Gabrielle Dunning had three for Norwood.

There was considerably more drama in the semifinal game for the male Bears. After three buckets by Nester helped NFA enjoy an 11-9 edge at the quarter, Norwood spread the score to 23-15 by the end of the half. Coming on strong out of the halftime huddle, St. Gen’s pulled within two points of the leaders, 25-23, with 3:51 still to go in the third quarter. The defenses took over and the score remained 25-23 until the end of the period.

Norwood went up 29-25, but St. Gen’s came back again and made it a one-point game at 29-28 thanks to a free throw by Eamon Corcoran and a short jumper by Kane O’Connor. Dominic DiCinque, Norwood’s compact but feisty point guard, helped the Bears play a savvy ball possession game down the stretch. He also provided the rest of the scoring in the 34-28 victory, shooting five-for-seven from the foul line and finishing with 11 points.

Norwood received 14 from Nester and seven from Cole Storm, while O’Connor had eight points and Steve Bell had seven for St. Gen’s.

IHM advanced to the boys’ championship game much more easily, downing semifinal rival Epiphany, 56-28, as Ryan McTamney and Phil DiWilliams rang up 15 and 14 points, respectively. Jake Winterbottom scored a team-high 11 points for the Epiphany Wildcats.

In the girls’ final on Sunday, Risico made an impact with her jumpshooting as her SCH squad led 6-5 at the quarter and still had a one-point edge late in the first half. Near the end, Brenna Isackman banked in a short shot from the lane to put the Lions up 14-11 at the interlude.

The Saints pulled even at 14-14 early in the third quarter, and pressured the Lions all over the court to create turnovers. After a final tie at 18-all, a lay-up and free throw by Marino moved St. Philip’s in front for good. Saints guard Angela Gervasi did a good job of penetrating to the hoop, scoring 13 of her game-high 15 points during the second half.

Starting the fourth quarter up 27-22, the Saints pushed their lead up into double digits in the final frame.

SCH received eight points apiece from Watson, Risico, and Pownall, and six from Isackman. Murphy ended up with nine points and Marino with seven for St. Philip, which also got four from Nicolette Vogelman, three from Bolger, and two from Grace McCullough.

The Norwood boys, who had come into the Snowball bash with a record of 2-6, surprised even some of their own fans as they rolled to a 10-0 lead in the first five minutes of the title bout. Nester stuck two short field goals and hit three of four foul shots in an 11-1 opening quarter.

Scoring off of an offensive rebound early in the second period, Tommy Sparacino gave IHM its first field goal of the day. His teammate John Coppinger followed up with a baseline jumper and it looked like IHM might make a quick comeback, but NFA soon put down the uprising. Nester notched eight more points to lead the Bears to a 24-11 halftime bulge.

With Norwood riding a 34-17 lead late in the third quarter, the contest was threatening to turn into a snoozer. IHM grabbed everyone’s attention in the final minute of the period, when McTamney and Tyler Zwicharowski each dropped in a lay-up and two free throws, bringing the gap down into single figures (34-25) to start the fourth quarter.

NFA’s DiCinque began the final frame with a three-pointer from the top of the key, but IHM kept battling. The Andorra hoopsters never got nearer to the leaders than seven points (41-34 with 4:02 left), but the contest seemed closer than that due to the frenzied activity on the court.

With under three minutes to go the Bears led 43-35, and they would score nothing but free throws the rest of the way. DiCinque went two-for-two and Sean Sehn was four-for-four at the line. Later, it looked like the game would end with a 10-point gap when IHM missed a pair of free throws with three seconds left, but on the second errant toss Sparacino got the put-back at the buzzer for a 49-41 final.

DiCinque registered all of his eight points during the second half and NFA’s Sehn did all of his scoring on six-for-eight foul shooting. Luke Forrence made all four of his free throws and added a lay-up, and rounding out the winners’ total were four points from Tanner Visco and three from Storm.

For IHM, all but one of McTamney’s team-high 12 points came after halftime, while Coppinger came away with 10 points and Sparacino with seven. Filling in around them were Zwicharowski and DiWilliams with four points each, and Jarred Cruz and Billy Gillard, with two apiece.

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