by Tom Utescher
Last Tuesday night’s season finale followed a script that the Chestnut Hill College women are well sick of, but it almost seems that they’re powerless to stop repeating it. In many of its games, CHC proves capable of playing right alongside its opponents for all but a few minutes, but during the short stretches when they falter, the Griffins bury themselves.
At Philadelphia University last week, a 40-39 Chestnut Hill advantage early in the second half quickly became a distant memory, as the host as Rams romped ahead for good with a 16-2 blitz. The visitors got back within 10 (61-51) with four minutes remaining in the game, but when half that time had expired, the home team was up by 20, and two more points for each side set the final score at 73-53.
With this final setback in Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference play, the Griffins ended their season with a record of 4-15 within the CACC, and 6-20 overall. Philly U. (10-9, 14-12) qualified for the conference tournament as the fourth seed in the Southern Division. The Lady Rams were headed to Caldwell (N.J.) College to play the top seeds in the Northern Division. In last year’s opening round, Caldwell took a 20-point decision over Philly U., then lost in the semifinals to eventual champ Holy Family University, of Northeast Philadelphia.
In the first meeting between CHC and Philly U. this season, the visiting Lady Rams scored the final seven points of the game as they claimed a 55-46 victory. For the rematch, the Lady Rams faced a personnel dilemma before the game even started, as freshman forward Tori Arnao (Archbishop Wood) rolled her ankle during warm-ups and was unable to play. Named the CACC’s Rookie of the Year, Arnao had been averaging 11.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. She was the top rebounder in the conference, and ranked fifth nationally in NCAA Division II.
The two Lady Ram seniors who were honored prior to the tip-off, forward Kristen Blye and guard Taylor Peltzer, each scored early buckets, and Central High grad Najah Jacobs, a sophomore guard, also found the hoop quickly. Meanwhile, CHC junior forward Annie Farrow singlehandedly held the Griffins in the game. The first non-Farrow points for the visitors – a pair of free throws from sophomore Olivia Gorczynski, created a 10-10 tie, and it remained a fairly close contest until halftime.
Gorczynski caught fire for four three-point field goals and a lay-up off a pass from classmate Lila Jones. When Gorczynski returned the favor to set up Jones’ second lay-up of the evening, the Griffins led 34-27 with 5:36 remaining in the opening period.
The three-ball then worked its magic on the other side of the scoreboard, with Jacobs sticking two in a row from the left side to put her team right back in it. Chestnut Hill missed a series of lay-ups, but still clung to a one-point lead with under 90 seconds left. Multiple turnovers by both teams followed, and at the end Blye deposited a lay-up in the transition offense, so the Lady Rams led, 37-36, at the interval.
CHC’s Gorczynski and Farrow already had 16 and 10 points on the books, respectively, but in the second period Gorczynski was shut out and Farrow was held to four points.
Lady Rams head coach Tom Shirley had made sure that his defense addressed the early perimeter production of Gorczynski.
“She’s a good set-shooter, so we wanted to face-guard her and make her put the ball on the floor,” he related.
Blye and Jacobs had paced Shirley’s offense in the first period with 13 points apiece, and Jacobs kicked off the second stanza scoring with a lay-up. Freshman guard Brittany McDonough answered with a mid-range jumper for the Griffins, who then took the lead one last time (40-39) on a basket in transition by Farrow.
Over the ensuing four minutes or so, three-point field goals by Jacobs and Peltzer helped fuel a 16-2 spree for the home team.
“I would really attribute the offensive spurt to our defensive changes,” Coach Shirley said. “We were struggling in our “man,” and they were making some shots against the zone, so we played kind of a junk defense where we were really covering three of their players, leaving the other two open, and then helping.”
CHC never really got back in the game after that. After Philly U. led by 17 points (61-44) with eight minutes left, a score from the paint by junior forward Aimee Bouie and a three-pointer and a put-back by senior guard Latoya Laing brought the margin down to 10 points with 4:29 to go. The Griffins then saw the Lady Rams quickly double their lead with frustrating ease. In her final outing at the Gallagher Center, Blye finished with a flourish, scoring off an inbounds play and a rebound, sinking a 15-footer from the right wing, and tacking on a free throw to furnish seven points in her team’s late 10-0 spree.
She led all scorers with 22 points and was tops for her team in rebounds, with 11. Jacobs gave the winners 21 points and five assists, and Peltzer produced 11 points, eight boards, and four assists.
In her last game for Chestnut Hill, senior forward Lindsay Alexander scored a modest two points but also pulled in a game-high 14 rebounds. Gorczynski came away with 16 points and three steals, and Farrow finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
A sophomore shooting guard out of Germantown Academy, Monica Schacker, became a starter this season for Philly U. after transferring from the University of New Haven. She had a quiet night last Tuesday, with two points and four rebounds, but had come into the game averaging 11.9 points per game overall, and 12.9 within the CACC.
“She’s acclimated herself to our program, and she’s had a good season,” Shirley stated. “I think she’s got two really good years ahead of her.”
UPDATE – The Lady Rams’ season ended on March 2, when they lost at Caldwell College, 72-50, in the opening round of the CACC tournament. Blye bid farewell to Philly U. with 18 points and 11 rebounds.