Mount St. Joe’s Regan Gallagher (right) battles for rebounding position against Upper Darby’s Shakeena Walls in last Saturday’s PIAA seeding game. Three days earlier, the MSJ sophomore had eight rebounds to go with eight points against top-seeded Cheltenham. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

As financial fund managers are fond of saying, “past performance may not be indicative of future results.”

That was true for the Mount St. Joseph basketball team over the past two weeks – in a positive sense. Following a disappointing loss in the quarterfinals of the District 1 Class AAAA tournament back on February 25, the Magic rebounded with a pair of convincing victories in PIAA state tournament seeding games last week.

On Wednesday evening Mount St. Joe rang up a 55-36 win over host Cheltenham High School, the original number one seed for the district tourney. Upper Darby High School was next, falling 53-27 on Saturday afternoon as the Magic clinched the district’s fifth seed for the state championships, the same ranking they started with in the District 1 playoffs.

Because of an event back at the Mount that made the Magic’s own gym unavailable, Saturday’s set-to with the seventh-seeded Upper Darby Royals also took place at Cheltenham. The Panthers’ gym became a showcase for MSJ sophomore guard Alex Louin, who rolled up 43 points in her two appearances there.

The district quarterfinal loss to Downingtown West had been a sobering setback for the Mounties, who were the defending champions.

“Everyone knew that that loss hurt a lot, so when we came into the gym for practice everyone was very serious – no goofing off,” related senior guard Maddie Kohler. “We knew that Cheltenham was strong and we wanted to beat them, and it was definitely a good ‘team’ effort for us.”

The first three minutes of Wednesday’s clash were entirely misleading in light of how the contest shaped up later on. Cheltenham took a 10-2 lead as three different players rang up field goals. One of them, St. Joseph’s University recruit C.C. Andrews, also drew two early fouls from fellow guard Bridget Higgins of the Magic, and Andrews made all four of the resulting foul shots.

The visitors’ score reflected just a lone jumper by Louin until MSJ senior Cailin Schmeer drove for a lay-up with 4:49 left in the opening frame. Louin fed the ball to junior Meg Geatens for a breakaway bucket, and then she bagged a 15-footer from the left wing. The Magic were back in business.

Louin finished the quarter with eight points, and a three-pointer by Higgins and a baseline shot by Kohler helped send the Mounties into the second period with a 17-14 edge. Louin did all of the scoring in an early 7-2 run in round two, then fellow sophomore Regan Gallagher came off of the bench to finish out the MSJ scoring, sinking a lay-up and then converting off of one of her team-high eight rebounds.

Her second basket made it a 10-point game, 28-18, but Cheltenham’s Andrews made sure her club wasn’t that far back at the break, dropping in a 15-footer and two free throws in the final 75 seconds. She had a dozen points at the interlude, and Louin had 15 as her team led 28-22.

When play resumed, a Geatens field goal was answered by two free throws from the Panthers’ Andrews, then Louin scored back-to-back baskets and Gallagher nailed a baseline jumper. The last two of these field goals earned assists for Gallagher and Schmeer as unselfish play on offense continued to pay dividends for Mount St. Joe.

After the early burst put the Mounties up 36-24, Andrews hit the first of her two second-half field goals, the only baskets the home team would score from the floor during the final two quarters. The Magic’s margin never dropped back into single digits, but rather grew from 13 points at the three-quarter mark (41-28) to a peak of 21 points in the final minute.

With 1:43 remaining both teams put in their reserves, giving MSJ junior Adrienne Cellucci a chance to lob in a three-pointer.

In addition to piling up 22 points and four steals, Louin made smart decisions with the ball throughout the evening and astutely observed developments all over the court. When Higgins picked up her early fouls the Magic didn’t miss a beat as junior Kelsey Jones came in to give a masterful point guard performance. Higgins scored five points, and Jones registered seven assists and two steals.

Kohler and Schmeer contributed six and five points, respectively, popping up at just the right time to keep the Panthers’ defense off-balance. Gallagher’s eight points and eight boards were complemented by six points and five rebounds from Geatens.

Assuming a starting role several weeks ago in place of injured sophomore Carly Monzo, Geatens has proven able to hang with larger players in the paint while using her quickness to rebound and drive against them. She seems to have created a new position for herself; small power forward.

Andrews paced the Panthers with 19 points in Wednesday’s game, but the only other Cheltenham player to score more than two points was forward Christina Coleman, who finished with eight. Three days later the Panthers (24-3) roared back to win the seventh seed for the district over Haverford High, 60-40.

In Saturday’s second game, the Magic took the court to face Upper Darby, a team which, like Cheltenham, was led by a star guard. Sophomore standout Tyra Polite was the Royals’ top scorer, and one of several players who could hit the long ball.

“On Wednesday we knew that C.C. was Cheltenham’s best player, so we wanted to be aware of her and crash the boards hard to try and keep the ball in our hands,” Kohler said. “Today, with Upper Darby, we realized that we had to stop their three-point shooting and get through their screens. We communicated well and yelled out all the switches. When we know we’re playing good defense I think it gets us excited and then we play well on offense, too, and that helped us in both games this week.”

Out of the gate, Upper Darby kept pace with the Mount up to 9-9. Polite hadn’t scored, but the Royals got two lay-ups from senior forward Kate Fitzpatrick, who was being watched from the stands by interested coaches from Shippensburg University.

However, the period ended with a stretch of almost five minutes when Upper Darby didn’t score from the floor. A “three” from the left wing by Higgins pushed the Magic ahead for good, then Louin deposited three jumpers and a lay-up to help fashion a 20-11 advantage at the close of the quarter.

The sophomore had fired in a trey in the opening minutes, so she had 11 points going into the second round. She added a baseline shot in the second period and was fouled three times, hitting five of six tosses from the line for an 18-point half. Geatens and Jones (who hit a “three”) joined in on the scoring in the 12-3 second quarter, which began with a three-pointer by the Royals’ Polite but ended with her club carrying a 32-14 deficit into the locker room.

Louin added a lone three-point field goal after the intermission to finish with 21 points and five rebounds, but the Magic no longer needed her to fill it up against the reeling Royals. Geatens matched two Upper Darby baskets early in the third frame, and the Royals managed just two free throws the rest of the period. Schmeer, who’d scored the first bucket of the afternoon off a dish from Higgins, came on to collect the rest of her nine points over the final 10 minutes.

Higgins and Geatens each finished with eight points, and Cellucci once more made good use of her playing time late in the game, knocking down a three-pointer. Polite had 10 points and Fitzpatrick finished with eight for Upper Darby.

The Mount begins state tournament play on Friday with a game against Wilson High School, located just west of Reading. Wilson brings a 26-3 record to the big dance and, like the Mount in District 1, the Lady Bulldogs started and ended the District 3 tournament in the same position – in their case, third.

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