by Tom Utescher
In front of delighted home fans, Penn Charter pulled off a basketball upset against the Germantown Academy girls last Tuesday, but three days later, the GA Patriots were still able to emerge as the sole champion of the Girls Inter-Ac League.
Jumping on GA early to build a 15-point halftime lead on Tuesday, the Quakers kept the visitors at arm’s length the rest of the way, winning 52-36. It was the first time Charter had defeated GA since the 1997-98 season, when the Quakers topped the Pats 51-39 en route to becoming the undefeated Inter-Ac champion. On Friday PC completed the regular season with a 42-28 triumph at Baldwin School, finishing 7-5 in league play to tie for fourth place with Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
Coming off Tuesday’s loss, defending champ GA owned a 9-2 mark and was still one game ahead of Episcopal Academy, which lost to Springside Chestnut Hill the same afternoon and slipped to 8-3. EA could’ve still salvaged a tie for the title (which is determined by win/loss records in the double round of league games) when it hosted Germantown on Friday, but the Patriots prevailed, 58-43. GA won the championship outright, as it’s done every year since 2000 (it was part of a three-way tie in 1999).
Episcopal found itself with an 8-4 final record that tied the Churchwomen for second place in the league with the Academy of Notre Dame. The Irish began the week with a 6-4 mark, and dispatched Baldwin and Agnes Irwin.
Charter’s win on Tuesday represented a huge turnaround from the first meeting with GA, which the Patriots dominated, 54-30.
“A lot of it is that we’re more experienced and we’ve come together as a team,” said first-year Quakers coach David Bass. We’ve gotten to know each others’ abilities.”
Dianna Thomas-Palmer, a power post player, and fellow senior MaryKate O’Brien, a point guard, combined for 20 points in the first half as the Quakers turned a 12-6 lead at the quarter into a 24-10 advantage at the intermission. The GA scorers who had done the most damage in the first game, senior Jaryn Garner and juniors Kiernan McCloskey and Natalie Toner, produced four points between them before halftime last week.
“We had a slow start against them the first time, and we came out a lot better today,” Bass said. “We had our senior day ceremony before the game and the girls were excited about that and were ready to play.”
Thomas-Palmer signed with Hofstra University in November and O’Brien is bound for Williams College, while PC’s third senior starter, Danielle Sienko, will focus on softball at Kutztown University.
In addition to simply raising the general intensity level for the rematch with GA, Bass said, “We wanted to speed up our offense, and have a lot of ball and body movement. We also know that GA likes to crash the boards, so we wanted to make sure to get bodies on them for the rebounds.”
As Germantown tried to gain traction in the third quarter for a comeback, PC eighth-grade guard Ayanna Matthews came on to score six of her 10 points for the night. Charter led 36-19 six minutes into the period, but two late three’s by GA’s Garner and Toner helped reduce the spread to 13 points for the beginning of the fourth round. Still, at 38-25, the visitors had only trimmed one point off of the Quakers’ halftime lead.
Neither club scored for more than two-and-a-half minutes as the fourth frame unfolded, then lay-ups by McCloskey and Garner narrowed the gap to nine points. The Quakers had already gotten into the foul bonus, though, and their next three points came from the free throw line courtesy of O’Brien, lifting the lead back into double figures for good.
A little later, PC called a time-out at 41-31 with four minutes left, and Charter outpointed the Patriots 11-5 the rest of the way, hitting seven of 10 free throws.
Thomas-Palmer turned in 18 points, 11 rebounds, and three steals, while O’Brien furnished 15 points and nine boards. Sienko said farewell with four points, and the winners got two apiece from junior Katie O’Malley and eighth-grader Hannah Fox, and one from sophomore Kristina Kubach.
GA got a 15-point night from UVA signee Garner, with nine added by McCloskey and six points tendered by Toner on a pair of three-pointers.
It was a three-point shot by another junior, Fran Sweeney, that lifted GA to its first victory over Episcopal (50-49) back on January 7. For last Friday’s rematch the Patriots had a defensive tandem to go up against EA junior center Megan Quinn, who has given a verbal commitment to Villanova University.
Mel Repella started off with the task for GA, and when she had some personal foul difficulties fellow junior Angela Upright came off the bench to protect the paint. Upright, who matches Quinn’s 6’2” height, has been easing back into action since late January, when she was cleared to play following knee surgery. She missed the first contest with EA, while an Episcopal guard who played in that game, senior Sarah McKay, tore her ACL a few weeks later and was done for the season.
Both teams were coming off of disturbing losses, and for GA it had been the fourth consecutive setback.
“When you go through a couple losses in a row, you can point fingers and blame someone, but they never did that,” said Patriots coach Sherri Retif. “In practice, we focused on thinking on the court. We play with such a high intensity level that sometimes it distracts us from playing smart. Today, every time they trapped we were making good decisions with the ball, finding the open person or driving when we needed to drive.”
Early in the game, GA inched ahead, 4-3, on nothing but free throws, which came from Garner and McCloskey. Later McCloskey canned a three-pointer, and at the end of the period she stuck a jumper from the foul line to send the Pats into the second quarter with an 11-9 edge. Repella picked up two early fouls, but so did EA’s veteran guard, Kristen Hinckley.
McCloskey kept rolling in the second period, scoring first on a fast break. She hooped another three-pointer, added a pair of free throws, and hit a short pull-up jumper after that to reach 16 points on her own as GA went up by seven.
“I definitely felt like I was in the zone, confident in my shot,” she said later. “I hadn’t made a lot of shots the last few games, but once I hit a couple three’s I felt comfortable today.”
Before the intermission GA junior Dempsey Cooper exchanged driving lay-ups with Jennifer Adelizzi of the Churchwomen, setting the halftime tally at 22-15.
When the action resumed, treys by Quinn and the newly-returned Hinckley helped the hosts cut the margin to three points, 24-21, but now it was Garner’s turn to lead the Germantown attack. On back-to-back drives, she went in for a lay-up and pulled up for a little jump shot. Next, she converted off of a short inbounds pass from the baseline, and she also had the last word in the third round, penetrating to score with 12 seconds left.
After fighting off EA’s early spurt, the Pats had added another two points to their lead, taking a 32-23 advantage into the final round. Two Adelizzi free throws got the Churchwomen back within seven, then yet another scorer stepped up for Germantown. Sweeney struck from the left baseline for a 14-footer and a three-point bucket, then swung over to the right side for another jumper.
Garner had thrown a transition basket into the mix, and when Sweeney’s surge was followed by more transition field goals by McCloskey and Garner, the visitors found them selves ahead 45-28 with less than two-and-a-half minutes to go. Repella had acquired a fourth foul early in the final frame, but spelling her with Upright allowed her to go the distance in the game. Upright was not afraid to get physical with EA’s Quinn when required (as the EA sideline pointed out to the refs), and Retif was happy to see the junior playing with confidence following her knee rehab.
With 1:55 remaining in the game GA got into the one-and-one bonus, and the Patriots made 13 of 16 free throws down the stretch.
McCloskey came away with 23 points and 15 rebounds, and floor marshal Garner scored 18 points and pulled 11 boards. Sweeney scored all of her nine points in the fourth quarter, and the Patriots got four points from Cooper and two from Repella. Leading the losing cause were Quinn, with 18 points and a dozen rebounds, Adelizzi, with nine points, and Hinckley, who scored all of her 12 points in the second half.
Back in the Penn Charter game, McCloskey related, “We suffered breakdowns on offense and defense because we weren’t trusting each other and we weren’t 100 percent in unison. In practice we emphasized talking as much as we could, and we worked on running the floor because we’re not a really big team but we’re quick. Today we really played together.”