About to be forced out over the baseline, GA freshman Kendall Grasela (right) bounces the ball off the foot of Notre Dame senior Kathleen Fitzpatrick. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Owners of a losing record in the middle of the 2012-2013 basketball campaign, the girls of Germantown Academy regrouped and eventually were able to finish their season in the championship game of the Pa. Independent Schools Tournament last weekend at Malvern Prep.

Defeating the Academy of Notre Dame in a Friday semifinal, 54-46, the Patriots ran into a determined Episcopal Academy squad the following day. The top-seeded Churchwomen added the Indy Schools crown to their 2013 Girls Inter-Ac title, topping GA for a third time this winter, 56-42.

Still, the Pats ended their season in a good spot compared to where they’d been a little over a month earlier. As 2013 began, Germantown lost to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy for the first time ever, and when the Patriots’ first encounter with Notre Dame ended in a 49-44 defeat on January 11, their record fell to 2-3 in the league and 7-8 overall.

Senior Fran Sweeney, a guard who will go on to Emory University, related “Five of us are seniors, and we wanted to put the things the coaches were telling us into action, and have the best outcome that we could.”

Later in the regular season, they were able to avenge the losses to both SCH and the Irish, and in all they won 11 of their last 14 games to finish 18-11. The Pats were not able to hang onto the Inter-Ac crown they’d worn since 1999, coming in third in the league with an 8-4 record that included two losses to Episcopal, 42-29 and 51-40.

Back on February 5, Germantown’s 54-46 win in its rematch with Notre Dame had knocked the Irish out of a tie for the league lead with EA. Both GA and Notre Dame were looking forward to a third meeting in the Independent Schools tournament, but before their paths converged in the semifinals, they’d have to win in the quarterfinals on February 13.

Both number two Notre Dame and third-seeded GA had received byes in the first round of the tourney, but while the Irish blasted through last Wednesday’s quarterfinal against SCH, 58-25, the Patriots struggled against number six Abington Friends, getting by 47-41. Fortunately for GA fans, the Pats summoned up a much higher level of intensity for the clash with their traditional Inter-Ac rival, Notre Dame.

As usual when playing the Irish, GA would focus its defense on limiting the inside and outside scoring of Notre Dame’s two Division I signees, Megan McGurk (Bucknell) and Kathleen Fitzpatrick (St. Joseph). Frankly, the Patriots didn’t really achieve that aim, since the two guards put up 22 and 21 points, respectively.

The problem for the Irish was that they got a total of just three points from the rest of their roster, even though all five starters are seniors.

The only Notre Dame field goal not provided by the team’s two stars came from Nikki Callahan early in the first quarter, when her lay-up complemented three buckets by Fitzpatrick in an 8-2 opening run. Lehigh-bound GA forward Kiernan McCloskey went coast-to-coast and straight down the lane to score at the end of the quarter, and a short jumper by Patriots sophomore Olivia Gorman began the second period.

Still, with nine points apiece from its backcourt headliners, Notre Dame remained in front throughout the half, which ended with a 21-15 tally. The Pats looked to get into the locker room with just a four-point deficit after Gorman canned a late three-pointer, but on a final charge up the floor by the Irish, GA managed to leave McGurk wide open under the basket and she scored off a pass from Fitzpatrick.

Nevertheless, junior forward Margaret Anne Hubbell said that the feeling among the Patriots was “We knew we could come back against them, because we were down more than that the last time we played them and we won the game. We just needed to go out there really get to work.”

McCloskey would have a huge fourth quarter for GA, but other players helped close the gap to three points by the conclusion of the third period. Early on, Hubbell hit a free throw and scored a lay-up off a feed from senior Dempsey Cooper (a University of Rhode Island recruit).

In the middle of the quarter, the small but scrappy Sweeney knocked down a three-pointer and a shorter jumper, and senior forward Angela Upright (who will play for former GA coach Jim Buckley at Ursinus College) scored off an inbounds pass and then netted a pair of free throws.

Fouls were becoming a serious problem for the Irish; they finished the third round with nine team violations, and certain individuals were getting in deep, as well.

“It was starting to work in our favor,” commented GA’s Hubbell. “Just driving the lane and going up strong was helpful.”

It was 35-32 for the start of the fourth stanza, when McCloskey would chalk up 12 of her team-high 18 points. She got going right away with two free throws, a driving lay-up, and an assist on a transition bucket by Hubbell. GA had taken the lead for the first time all day, but the Irish came back to tie twice, at 38-all and then at 39-39.

With 3:32 to go, Hubbell drove through a pair of opponents for a lay-up that pushed the Pats ahead for good. The next two Notre Dame possessions ended with steals by GA freshman guard Kendall Grasela, the first one leading directly to a McCloskey field goal.

Grasela hit two foul shots as the clock dropped down close to two minutes remaining, making it 45-39. McCloskey scored after recovering a loose-ball rebound at the defensive end, then Notre Dame turned the ball over and fouled the player who grabbed it, Hubbell. When she made both free throws with 1:40 to go, Germantown led by a full 10 points, 49-39.

Notre Dame finally got into the foul bonus and McGurk shot a perfect one-and-one. Next, she freed herself with a sidestep at the three-point line and found the net, cutting the lead to five points early in the final minute. Regaining possession through a travelling call, the Irish used their final time-out with 52 seconds left and the score still 49-44.

Notre Dame missed its next two shots from the floor and Fitzpatrick fouled out of the game with an infraction against McCloskey, who made the second of two freebies with 33.6 seconds showing. GA’s Sweeney then jabbed the ball loose from the Irish and Grasela grabbed it, and when she missed a shot, McCloskey corralled the rebound and was fouled. The senior was on target with both tosses, spreading the score to 52-44.

Notre Dame’s McGurk and GA’s Grasela each converted a pair of free throws in the final 10 seconds, and the foul against Grasela was number five for Irish senior Ali Abbonizio. McCloskey posted 18 points and nine rebounds and Hubbell had 12 points and seven boards for the winners, who got nine points from Gorman, six from Grasela (five rebounds, four assists, three steals), five from Sweeney, and four from Upright (four rebounds).

Earlier in the day Episcopal had beaten fourth-seeded Shipley School in the other semifinal, 57-44, and the next afternoon the Churchwomen showed their resolve to add the Pa. Independent title to their Inter-Ac championship. EA’s 6’2” post presence, Megan Quinn (a senior who committed to Villanova University midway through her high school career), fired 15 of her game-high 24 points in the first half, which ended with a double-digit lead for the Churchwomen, 26-16.

Episcopal had pulled away after gaining a 12-10 edge in an opening quarter that featured two three-pointers and a lay-up by Germantown’s Gorman. Throughout the game, EA made a lot of hustle plays, beating GA to numerous loose balls.

The Pats tried to rally after halftime, but the first two field goals of the third round belonged to a reserve guard for the Churchwomen, Meghan Pickell. Other cast members surrounding Quinn kept stepping up at various times to prevent the Pats from focusing on just one or two threats. For example, late in the third stanza EA received three-point field goals from both senior Kristen Hinckley (who’ll play lacrosse at Dartmouth) and junior Sarah Abbonizio (cousin of Notre Dame’s Ali).

The fourth quarter began 42-31 and both teams quickly got into the foul bonus, but Episcopal got more mileage out of that than the Patriots. A full dozen of the Churchwomen’s 14 points in the period came from the free throw line as they tacked another three points onto their lead.

McCloskey again paced GA with 15 points, with eight apiece coming from Gorman and Hubbell, and five from Grasela. Four points from Cooper and two from Upright completed the Patriots’ scoring.

“It was great to get to the final,” Sweeney said, “and it was nice to play against Episcopal again, even though it didn’t work out the way we wanted. The middle of our season was kind of rough, so we were proud to get this far at the end.”

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