In an NCAA League contest, 2013 Germantown Academy graduate Fran Sweeney (left) is shadowed by Bria Young, of Phiadelphia University. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

There were some battles between the top teams in the NCAA Summer League last week, but one match-up where the outcome was thought to be a foregone conclusion might have been the most interesting.

Team Gold, which rosters three Mount St. Joseph Academy players, came into the three-game week tied for second place in the standings, but lost on Tuesday evening to the undefeated league leader, Team White, 67-51. The next night White suffered its first loss to the former number one squad, Hunter Green, while Gold won by forfeit over Royal Blue, a franchise that includes recent Germantown Academy grad Fran Sweeney. On Thursday, everyone expected the Gold to have their way with winless Team Orange – everybody except the Orange athletes themselves.

An uninspired Gold group trailed by 10 points in the opening period before scratching back to a 30-30 halftime tie. During the second half, there were numerous occasions when the Gold seemed about to take control, but Orange kept hanging around and didn’t fall behind for good until fewer than nine minutes remained. Gold still only ended up with a four-point victory, 63-59.

On one of the three nights of competition last week, Team Black (all Philadelphia University students) had a bye, and in the other two games they wound up with close losses by identical scores: 65-57. A rising junior out of GA, Monica Schacker, was the high scorer for the Philly U-fueled franchise each time, netting 11 points against Hunter Green, and 17 against Team Red. Hunter’s win included 17 points from deadeye guard Erin Shields (Archbishop Carroll/St. Joseph’s U.), and while Team Red consists mostly of University of Scranton players, their high scorer against Black was Emily Homan, a 6’3” forward from Lafayette College.

In Wednesday’s marquee Hunter/White game, Shields frayed the nets with a 29-point performance, making all 14 of her free throws while popping in three three-point field goals. As a result, Team White tasted defeat for the first time this summer, despite 23 points from Catherine Carr, a very fine Division II guard who graduated from Holy Family University two years ago.

When a good team plays a winless one, the time-honored advice is to deny the weaker team a chance to believe they can win, or even stay close. Team Gold, on the other hand, allowed the 0-6 Orange to develop a high degree of confidence in the early going.

After leading 5-4 a few minutes in, Gold fell behind, and a little past the midpoint of the first period Orange obtained a double-digit lead at 26-16, receiving three three-point field goals and a lay-up from Council Rock North alum Devin Gold. Gold is a rising junior at New Jersey’s Caldwell College, a member of the same Division II conference as Chestnut Hill College, Philly U., and Holy Family.

The Gold team recovered through a 7-0 run powered by three Cardinal O’Hara graduates, with Maureen Leahy hitting a 15-footer, Mackenzie Rule bagging a three-pointer from the left wing, and Natasha Cloud (who had scored Gold’s first five points of the night) making good on a drive.

Later, Leahy scored twice from the paint in the last 80 seconds to forge a 30-30 tie for the intermission.

Leahy is one of two 6’2” players for the Gold, and it was steady scoring from the other one, St. Joseph’s sophomore Sarah Fairbanks, that kept the team within striking distance during a disconcerting first period. She led her ballclub with 10 points at the half, and would have a team-high 15 at the end.

Although Fairbanks and her teammates contained Devin Gold in the second half, the Orange team still owned the lead several times, and last were ahead with 9:48 to play, when the count was 49-48. After a 50-50 tie, Team Gold finally moved ahead for good when Fairbanks hit a lay-up with 8:49 showing, and 2012 Mount St. Joe grad Bridget Higgins (who’s now playing at the University of Pittsburgh) quickly added a three-pointer that she banked in from the left side.

With two-and-a-half minutes left, the Gold team had opened up an eight point lead at 60-52, but a 5-0 spurt had Orange back within three points heading into the final minute. Fairbanks exchanged baskets in the paint with Orange post player Danielle Derr (a recent Bloomsburg graduate originally from Upper Dublin High) to make it 62-59 with 48 ticks to go, but now Orange had to foul to keep their rivals from running out the clock.

However, Orange was still a couple of fouls under the limit and by the time they put Gold in the one-and-one and sent Cloud to the free throw line, only 17 seconds remained. Cloud made the first shot to put the final score on the board, and Orange rebounded the missed second shot. A former Mount St. Joseph foe from Villa Joseph Marie, Melissa Poderis, fired from the outside but was off-target, and the game ended with the rebounded ball in the hands of Team Gold’s Fairbanks.

Her 15 points were backed up by 13 from Cloud and 12 from Leahy for the victorious but inglorious Gold, who got five points from Higgins and two from fellow MSJ alumna Elle Hagedorn. Devin Gold had a game-high 16 points, and the Orange got 13 points apiece from Derr and Ryann Fiascki (Archbishop Carroll). Both Fiascki and Poderis of the Orange squad are current East Stroudsburg University teammates of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy graduate Michelle Boggs (’12).