With Notre Dame’s Caitlin Clark (left) snuggling up to her, GA sophomore Lauren Oeth (with ball) pulled down a rebound and then put in a lay-up on this play. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

With Notre Dame’s Caitlin Clark (left) snuggling up to her, GA sophomore Lauren Oeth (with ball) pulled down a rebound and then put in a lay-up on this play. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Keeping the visiting Notre Dame defense off-balance by having four different players score in double figures, Germantown Academy attained a 14-point advantage in the first half last Thursday, then cruised to a 65-40 victory in its first Girls Inter-Ac League outing of 2014.

After suffering graduation losses that included Division I forward Kiernan McCloskey and savvy guard Fran Sweeney, the Patriots have recovered nicely, sitting at 3-0 in the league and 8-3 overall after the victory over the Irish (3-2, 5-7).

“We have tremendous leadership,” explained veteran head coach Sherri Retif. “Our two captains, Margaret Ann Hubbell and Olivia Gorman, just bring it every day to practice, and then they step it up in game situations. They’re kind of quiet leaders; they lead by example and the younger players have a lot of respect for them.”

Gorman, a junior guard, scored a game-high 17 points on Thursday and also dished out five assists, while Hubbell, a senior forward, posted 14 points. Sophomore Erin Lindahl registered 16 points and six rebounds, and classmate Lauren Oeth scored 11 points and led the team on the boards, with eight rebounds.

Hubbell, who’s headed to West Point next year, averaged 21 points over three games in GA’s recent trip to the Sugar Bowl Classic in New Orleans, where she was named to the all-tournament team.

A third 10th-grader, guard Kendall Grassela, usually starts alongside Oeth and Lindahl, but she suffered a minor knee injury and Retif felt it best to keep her sidelined until there’s a more clear-cut diagnosis of the problem.

“It was Abby Starzecky’s first start as a point guard today,” the Patriots’ skipper noted. “It wasn’t an easy situation for a freshman, and she did very well.”

Although Notre Dame graduated a passel of players from last year’s team, including a pair of Division I guards, GA approached the contest quite seriously.

“You never want to take them lightly,” Retif cautioned. “Mary Beth [McNichol] is an outstanding coach, and she’s always going to put a good team on the floor.

“I think we did a good job of getting them out of their triangle-and-two defense early in the game,” the coach continued. “They tried to shut down Olivia and Margaret Ann, but Erin hit some big shots and then Lauren hit some big shots, and they had to get out of it.”

Scoring the first six points of the afternoon, GA never trailed, and Lindahl hit two lay-ups and a mid-range jumper to help the Pats go up 12-2 in a little over four minutes. Notre Dame stiffed on defense and closed up the score to 12-6 by the end of the quarter. The Irish could have been much closer than that, but they only secured one of a possible six points at the foul line.

Notre Dame got within five with an early free throw in the second period, but Oeth answered for GA with a field goal from the paint. Notre Dame called time-out less than a minute into the quarter with the count at 15-7, but the Patriots continued to build their lead.

The count was 30-16 at the half, when Lindahl led all scorers with nine points, while Gorman, Oeth, and Hubbell added eight, seven, and six points, respectively. GA forced some turnovers, ran the floor well, and was solid on the boards at both ends.

Through much of the game, the Irish appeared snake-bit on the offensive end, getting a number of relatively open lay-up and short jumpers, and seeing very few of them fall.

Four-and-a-half minutes into the third quarter, a three-pointer from the left baseline by Lindahl spread the score to 44-18. Pulling the Irish back from the brink of full-blown rout, diminutive guard Caitlin Clark came up big with two treys, a lay-up, and a free throw in a two-minute span, and by the end round three the tally was somewhat more respectable, at 49-30.

Clark would emerge as the only double-digit scorer for the visitors, ending up with 16 points while Alex Kane was next on the list, with nine.

In the first minute of the fourth quarter, a jumper by Kane trimmed the Notre Dame deficit to 17, but after that GA was in the ascendancy once more. Despite the occasional surges by the Irish, the Patriots ended up outscoring their Main Line rivals in each quarter of the contest.

Guards Lilly Bolen (a freshman) and Maeve Conner (a sophomore) gave GA a lot of good minutes off the bench, contributing three and two points, respectively. Reserve forward Leena Kardacz saw most of her floor time come in the second half, scoring two points in the game.

With only one junior and one senior on the roster, GA has needed its younger athletes to learn and mature on the job, and that has happened.

“The young girls played summer ball together and fall ball, and they developed their chemistry,” Retif related. “That was a priority for them. They’re serious about seeing themselves as basketball players, and they want to just keep getting better as a team.”

UPDATE – GA won two games over the next two days, both on the road. At Delaware’s Caravel Academy on Friday, 33 points from Hubbell paced the Pats in a 58-44 victory, and the following day in the Play-by-Play Classic at Philadelphia University, Gorman poured in 25 points as GA brought down Villa Maria, 57-39.

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