by Tom Utescher

Team Gold point guard Bridget Higgins looks over her options on offense during an NCAA League game. A Lafayette Hill native, Higgins is a 2012 Mount St. Joseph Academy grad currently playing at the University of Pittsburgh. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Getting a total of 11 points from Mount St. Joseph Academy grads Bridget Higgins (’12) and Elle Hagedorn (’09) and receiving some good defensive minutes from former Mountie Maddie Kohler (’12), Team Gold maintained its third-place standing in the NCAA women’s summer basketball league last Thursday evening with a 54-44 victory over Team Kelly Green. With an 8-2 record and only two games remaining, the Gold are now certain to appear in the eight-team playoff bracket.

However, it took a 17-point turnaround in the last 17 minutes to produce Thursday’s final outcome, as a Kelly Green squad featuring many ladies who play together for Holy Family University extended a 29-24 halftime lead by scoring the first two points of the second period.

St. Joseph’s University sophomore forward Sarah Fairbanks logged eight of her team-high nine points after the intermission, and her Hawks teammate Natasha Cloud (a Cardinal O’Hara alumna who began her college career at the University of Maryland) was next on the list with eight points, with Higgins and Swarthmore’s Madeline Ross adding seven apiece.

Forward Maureen Leahy and guard McKenzie Rule each deposited six points, and Hagedorn was one of two players with four points in the book. All three Mount alums on the team play the guard spot.

A rival that two of them faced in high school, Villa Joseph Marie’s Caroline Heston, now plays for Holy Family, and her nine points for Kelly Green last Thursday tied her for game-high honors along with Gold’s Fairbanks and her own Holy Family/Kelly colleague, Maggie Seratelli. The Kelly Green line-up also included guard Erin Martin, who plays for Indiana University of Pennsylvania and was a scholastic performer at Penn Charter and then Plymouth Whitemarsh High School. She scored five points against the Gold.

On the same night, two former Germantown Academy standouts came out on the short end in their NCAA League contests. Kiernan McCloskey, who just bid the Patriots farewell this June, scored a dozen points for Team Purple but they bowed to the Red franchise, 58-52.

Meanwhile, Monica Schacher (GA ’11) and the all-Philadelphia U. Team Black had engaged a Maroon team made up mostly of athletes from University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, which plays in the same Division II college conference as Philly U. Team Maroon rallied from a modest shortfall at the half to win this one, 70-59, as Schacker finished with 11 points for the night.

Holy Family also belongs to the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, as does Chestnut Hill College, which has no one participating in the NCAA League this summer.

In McCloskey’s game, the teams were even at 12-12 a little more than halfway through the opening period, but Red pulled away to lead 26-19 at the intermission. McCloskey helped Purple stay in the hunt by netting all 12 of her points in the second half, frequently slashing to the basket after receiving passes just outside the paint.

Purple briefly enjoyed the upper hand, ahead 44-43 with seven minutes to go, but Red quickly recaptured the lead and finished out with a six point victory. One of two players who rang up 11 points for this largely Division III (University of Scranton) group was incoming freshman Sarah Payonk, post player for a Spring-Ford High School squad that defeated Mount St. Joe’s both in the 2012-2013 regular season and in the District I championship game. Spring-Ford went on to capture the Class AAAA state title.

The Black team fueled by Philly U. battled back and forth with Maroon throughout the first half, and they led the USP posse at the break, 36-33. Maroon came charging out of the halftime huddle and out-pointed Black 17-5 in a span of just six minutes. The West Philly outfit kept on rolling to an 11-point triumph, despite a game-high 16-points from Team Black guard Najah Jacobs, a rising Philly U. junior out of Central High School.

A week earlier in NCAA summer action, Team Gold had almost fumbled away a game against the only winless team in the league (at the time), and again in the first half of last Thursday’s encounter they seemed out of sync for long stretches. Two early three-pointers by Brittany Wood helped Kelly Green gain a 15-6 lead as Gold made a number of unsound passing and shooting decisions.

Higgins helped right the ship with a three-pointer from the right flank, and with six-and-a-half minutes remaining in the half, a trey by Ross pushed Gold ahead, 18-15. Kelly Green revived its offense, and with Martin providing the team’s last five points on two lay-ups and a free throw, they were back in front for the halftime pause, 29-24.

Their lead grew to seven points as Heston went to the foul line to garner the first two points of the second half, but the rest of the way Kelly was outgunned by the Gold, 30-13. Gold’s second-half scoring also began with a pair of free throws, made by Hagedorn, then two field goals by Fairbanks and one each by Higgins and Caitlin Vasey (C.B. East/Lebanon Valley College) fleshed out the rest of a 10-0 surge.

A follow-in by Kelly Green’s Wood closed the gap to a single point at 34-33, but once Gold drew away with back-to-back three-pointers by Rule and Swarthmore’s Jessica Jowdy, and Kelly never got as close again. Team Gold was up by 11 with five minutes remaining (50-39) and cruised home from there.

While the winners kept possession of third place by raising their record to 8-2, Hunter Green remained atop the league at 9-1, and White was still second at 8-1. Each team is slated for one bye during the regular season, and while White had its bye early in the schedule, Gold and Hunter Green have their nights off this Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

Coming on at the right time, the USP-affiliated Maroon moved up into fourth place with a 6-4 record, while the 5-4 marks produced by McCloskey’s Purple team, along with the Red and Sky Blue outfits, have those three tied for fifth place. Head-to-head, Red has beaten Purple and Purple has beaten Sky Blue, with the Red and Sky Blue teams set to clash this Thursday.

Team Black, with Schacker and her Philly U. peers, finished last week with a 3-5 mark, involving them in a three-way tussle (with Kelly Green and Navy Blue) for the last berth in the eight-team playoffs.

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