Two freshman forwards square off down in the paint; (from left) Chloe Burns of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and Mireyah Davis of Penn Charter. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Two freshman forwards square off down in the paint; (from left) Chloe Burns of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and Mireyah Davis of Penn Charter. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Leading host Penn Charter by as many as nine points in the second quarter, the visiting Blue Devils of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy settled in to a 24-19 halftime lead in last Friday’s Girls Inter-Ac League basketball battle.

After that the momentum shifted, with the Quakers charging into the lead in a 17-4 third quarter and then holding off SCH down the stretch to come away with a 43-37 victory. Each team entered the fray with a league record of 2-1, and afterwards Penn Charter was 11-2 overall while the Blue Devils slipped to 5-7.

The stats for the top individual scorers reflected the change in fortunes for the two squads. PC sophomore guard Hannah Fox funneled in 12 of her game-high 19 points in the second half, which is when freshman forward Mireyah Davis collected six of her nine points for the day. Senior guard Julia Schumacher of SCH netted all of her team-high 12 points before halftime, and sophomore Lindsay Hiner had eight of her 10 before the break.

Springside Chestnut Hill’s strong start didn’t occur by happenstance.

“In practice we talked about working hard and coming out right away with a lot of intensity, which we hadn’t been doing in a lot of games,” Schumacher said. “On defense we knew we had to be aware of number 25 [Fox] and number 15 [sophomore Ayanna Matthews, who scored eight points] with their outside shooting. On offense, we ran the floor well and we pushed the ball in transition.”

After Fox and Hiner traded three-pointers at the outset, the teams seesawed up to 7-7, then Hiner scored in transition off a Charter turnover and Schumacher made a pair of free throws. The Quakers got two points back from the foul line thanks to freshman guard Camryn Gold (seven points), but just before the buzzer Hiner squared up on the right wing and buried another “three” to make it 14-9, SCH, at the quarter.

Squaring up on shots, both long and short, was not something PC did well over the first two periods. Offense from Matthews and Gold did help the Quakers close within three points of the visitors five minutes into the second frame (18-15), but then short jumpers by Schumacher and junior reserve guard Essence Walden and a pair of free throws by Schumacher powered the Blue Devils to their biggest lead of the day, 24-15.

Things didn’t look as bleak by halftime for PC fans, as Fox nailed a trey from a few feet above the top of the key and then made the first shot of a one-and-one with five seconds on the clock.

Still, trailing by five points on their home floor, the Quakers had a lot to talk about during the intermission.

“Springside wanted to come in to our home court and beat us, and they came into the game with a lot of energy,” observed Charter guard Kristina Kubach, the lone senior on the PC roster. “At halftime we took a moment to regroup. We talked about rebounding because we gave them a lot of second opportunities in the first half. When we got behind, we were sort of rushing to catch up, and we made some bad passes and took some bad shots.

“We came out in a box-and-one [defense] in the second half and it helped us shut down their offense,” she went on. “That made us feel that we didn’t have to score so many points in a hurry, so we settled down and ran our offense better.”

A lay-up and free throw by Matthews and a score off a rebound by Davis got the hosts back on even footing with the Devils, then a three-pointer by Fox made it 27-24, giving PC the lead for the first time since the opening phase of the contest. A rebound conversion by freshman forward Chloe Burns (a Norwood Fontbonne Academy product) gave SCH its first points of the new half with two-and-a-half minutes gone, but the Blue Devils would manage only two more points during the third quarter.

Fox, on the other hand, deposited another two three-point shots, and a driving lay-up by Gold and a free throw by Davis helped send the home team into the final period with a 36-28 advantage.

“I think it kind of surprised us when they came out in the box-and-one,” said SCH’s Schumacher. “We weren’t ready for it, so that helped them. But at the end of the game we fought back, and that’s important.”

Offense from Walden, Hiner, and junior forward Olivia Byron helped keep the Devils in the hunt. When Walden stole the ball and scored with two-and-a-half minutes left to play, the visitors were back within four points, at 40-36. Called for walking, Charter turned the ball over, but SCH then lost it out-of-bounds.

Now in the one-and-one, the Quakers rounded out their total with two big free throws by Davis (with 1:19 remaining to make it 42-36) and one by Fox, while the last point for the visitors came on a foul shot by Burns (five points total).

While Schumacher is not the only senior on the SCH squad, she is the point guard and the most experienced player on a team that routinely starts a freshman and a sophomore.

“I think all the young girls are coming along well,” she said, “and the energy they give us definitely helps our team.”

Charter has an even younger group, and the sole senior, Kubach, often finds herself on the floor with four comrades who are freshmen and sophomores.

“It was challenging at first to try and bring so many young players together when you’re kind of outnumbered,” the Quakers’ captain said. “As time went on, we grew more comfortable with each other and became more of a team. We’re still working on becoming more consistent and getting the maturity level up, and I think we’re making improvements every day.”

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