by Tom Utescher
Penn Charter ended its basketball season last Wednesday afternoon in the second round of the Pa. Independent Schools Girls Basketball Championships, falling to host Germantown Academy, 38-17. It was the final appearance for three PC seniors, center Dianna Thomas-Palmer and guards MaryKate O’Brien and Danielle Sienko.

Penn Charter senior Danielle Sienko (right) brings the ball upcourt past GA junior Dempsey Cooper. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Two days earlier in the opening round of the tournament, third-seeded GA enjoyed a bye, while the number six Quakers knocked off the 11th seed, Solebury School, 41-29. Wednesday’s outcome yielded a final overall record of 16-13 for the Quakers, whose Girls Inter-Ac League record of 7-5 put them in a tie for fourth place with Springside Chestnut Hill.

The two official league games against GA couldn’t have been more different. First, the Patriots chased PC off of their home floor, 54-30, then at Penn Charter on February 7 the Quakers ruled their court, 52-36.

Starting guards Ayanna Matthews and Hannah Fox combined for a dozen points for Charter in the rematch. Neither was able to participate in last week’s Pa. Indy tournament, though, because they are both eighth graders and aren’t permitted to play according to the tournament rules.

Going into the postseason game at GA, this change curtailed PC’s running offense, and it didn’t help their overall ball-handling, either. The Quakers came out on the floor playing deliberate, slow-paced basketball.

“We wanted to control the tempo,” explained first-year Quakers coach David Bass. “It’s hard to start out playing a delay game, but it worked for a quarter-and-a-half. We got a little tired and they started trapping.”

“We weren’t ready for that at all,” remarked GA senior guard Jaryn Garner. “Our game plan was actually to push the pace and trap and things like that.”

Thomas-Palmer and O’Brien bagged first-quarter field goals, and at the end Thomas-Palmer made one of two free throws for a 5-2 PC edge. The Charter center drove to make it 7-2 at the dawn of the second period. GA junior Natalie Toner then lobbed a three-pointer from the right wing, an ominous sign for PC even though the Patriots’ Garner picked up her third personal foul a few seconds later.

Thomas-Palmer converted a rebound to put her squad up 9-5 with three minutes left in the first half, then she acquired a second foul. Toner targeted another trey for the Patriots, and fellow junior Fran Sweeney, who had entered the game when Garner took a seat, followed up with a triple of her own.

Yet another 11th-grader, Dempsey Cooper, was fouled after stealing the ball and made the two free throws awarded her. Junior forward Kiernan McCloskey, who had deposited GA’s lone field goal in the opening quarter, also scored the Patriots’ last two of the half, rounding out a two-minute, 12-0 spree that gave the hosts a halftime lead of 17-9.

“McCloskey did a nice job running the floor and got some easy baskets for them, and Garner had some nice pull-ups,” noted the Quakers’ Bass, who added that even though Garner had to sit for awhile with foul problems, “They’re a pretty deep team and they had people come in and hit outside shots for them.”

Garner noted that in GA’s loss at Charter 11 days earlier, “We turned the ball over a lot more than we usually do, but we handled the ball much better today. We also had put in some new offensive plays to use against the zone they played against us down there. We got people moving and got girls open for some outside shots.”

As the second half got underway, Cooper connected from above the foul line, then Toner scored off of a rebound and McCloskey added lay-ups on an inbounds play and a fast break. With 72 seconds left in the third quarter, a baseline shot by Sienko gave the Quakers their first points since before the break, but GA still went into the final frame with a 25-11 lead that never would be seriously threatened.

The winners received a game-high 12 points from McCloskey, eight from Toner, and seven from Garner. Four points from Cooper, three from Sweeney, and two each from sophomore Emma Silvers and freshman Olivia Gorman rounded it out for GA. Thomas-Palmer led the Quakers with seven points, and her classmates O’Brien and Sienko scored five points apiece.

Charter, which had won five games in a row prior to the season finale, drew up a rigorous schedule for the 2011-2012 season, thinking it would have nationally prominent senior guard Brianna Butler on the roster. However, Butler transferred to a New York City high school just one day into the fall semester.

“We had a big adjustment early on with the transfer, and we had one of the best schedules of any team in the area in front of us,” pointed out Bass. “The kids kept their heads up, and they didn’t back down from anybody. We’re losing some great seniors, but we have a lot of youth in the program. They’ll be playing more outside of just the school season, in summer leagues and so on, so we’re excited to move forward.”

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