Penn Charter junior Nicolette Napoleon (with ball) looks for an opening to drive to the basket as she’s defended by Notre Dame’s Rachel Ryan. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Penn Charter junior Nicolette Napoleon (with ball) looks for an opening to drive to the basket as she’s defended by Notre Dame’s Rachel Ryan. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In consecutive games back in mid-December, Penn Charter’s girls basketball team upset highly-regarded Shipley School, 55-51, but then lost, 38-32, to an Academy of Notre Dame team that was considerably down on talent compared to the previous winter.

In the Pa. Independent Schools tournament last week, PC ended its 2013-14 season against the same two ballclubs, but this time the order and the outcome were reversed for the Quakers. Having opened the tourney on February 15 by dispatching 14th-seeded Westtown School, 50-38, third-seeded Penn Charter topped Notre Dame, 43-34, in a quarterfinal game last Monday afternoon.

That victory came in Charter’s final home-court appearance, then the action shifted to a neutral site at Malvern Prep for Friday’s semifinals, where Shipley had its revenge against the Quakers in a convincing 54-33 victory. PC closed out the season just shy of the 20-win mark, at 19-8 overall.

All told, it was encouraging performance for a team that possesses a good deal of talent, but had just one senior and one junior on its roster. Frequently this winter, the Quakers could be found with two sophomores and three freshmen on the floor at the same time.

Their December defeat at the hand of Notre Dame wasn’t their only loss to the Irish; PC also succumbed in the regular-season rematch at the end of January, 54-49.

These two setbacks played a major role in forcing Penn Charter to settle for third place in the Inter-Ac League, with a record of 7-5. In other Inter-Ac contests, the Quakers lost twice to two-time champ Episcopal, split with Germantown Academy, and swept home/away series against the other three schools.

“We shot horribly in those first two games (against Notre Dame), so the players wanted this one as bad as I did,” related Charter coach David Bass following last Monday’s win.

Asked what helped make a difference the third time around, the coach quickly responded, “Disciplined defense. We knew we would have to play man-to-man against them the whole game. I knew I would have to go deeper on the bench than usual because of the need to keep up that pressure defense. Each kid who came in off the bench contributed something.”

Sophomore guard Ayanna Matthews, who led the scoring in the first half with eight points, started right in with a lay-up. The Irish received a pair of free throws and a three-pointer in the opening frame, but that trey would be the only field goal the visitors scored in the entire first half.

PC only led 6-5 as the first quarter dwindled but at the end Fox drove for a lay-up. Thanks to Matthews and freshman Alexis Hnatkowski, PC scored the first six points of the second quarter, completing an 8-0 run that was not insignificant in a game like this. With a little under two minutes to go in the half, the Quakers got into the foul bonus, and freshman forward Mireyah Davis pulled four points out of two one-and-one’s, in addition to putting in a lay-up.

The tally was 22-11 for the intermission.

Bass related, “We knew that they would come out in the second half and play disciplined ball and get some better looks. With a team like Notre Dame you know you’ll have to fight to the last second. It was important for us to take care of the ball and make foul shots.”

In the first two-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter PC actually increased its lead, going up by 15 at 29-13. However, the Irish began to execute the well-crafted set offense which Bass mentioned, closing the third round with a 12-4 rally that included three three-pointers from sophomore guard Alex Kane.

Each team added two points in the first two minutes of the fourth period, raising the count to 35-27. Not long after that, Charter got into the one-and-one bonus, but although the Quakers shot a solid 18-for-26 from the free throw line overall, they were only eight-for-15 in the final quarter.

In the end, PC found the target again when it mattered most. Following their own time-out with 46.5 seconds remaining and Notre Dame just five points back (39-34), the Quakers had Fox go to the charity stripe to sink both shots in a double-bonus situation. Tying up the ball with just over half-a-minute left, Charter had the possession arrow in its favor, and at 0:27 freshman Camryn Gold made two shots from the line to post the 43-34 final up on the board.

Notre Dame, which had seen both Sophia Galantino and Colleen Donnelly foul out of the game during the final two minutes, missed one last lay-up. Kane led their cause with a total of 18 points, and fellow guard Caitlin Clark scored nine.

Combining for 25 Penn Charter points were Matthews (13) and Fox, while Davis ended up with nine points and Gold with six. Hnatkowski had two points for the day, and senior Kristina Kubach added a free throw.

Four days later, the Quakers knew that Shipley would be eager to wreak its vengeance, but ultimately, PC could do little to avoid its fate. Champion of the Friends Schools League and bringing a record of 20-5 into the Indy Schools semifinals, the Gators featured a Division I point guard (Sox Alexander – St. John’s) and a Division II shooting guard (Colleen Walsh – University of the Sciences), along with a lot of younger talent.

Shipley appeared confident in every aspect of the game, while PC seemed tentative from the get-go, uncharacteristically hesitant to shoot the ball. Two early inside baskets from sophomore forward Courtney Redcross helped the Gators break out to an 8-2 lead, and five-and-a-half minutes went by before PC notched its first field goal on a drive by Gold.

Shipley was up 17-6 at the quarter and Alexander led off the second round with her second field goal of the game, but at least PC didn’t lose much more ground after that.

Hnatkowski and Fox each hit twice from the floor (one of Hnatkowski’s buckets was a three-pointer), and the scoreboard came to rest at 30-15 for halftime.

Offense from the same two players helped Charter hang close in the third round, but with junior guard Nia Holland coming on for six points, the Gators still added to their lead, setting the count at 41-24 for the start of the final round. Near the midway point of the fourth quarter, Shipley led by two-dozen points (50-46), then the Quakers trimmed a little bit off the top in the closing minutes.

PC sophomores Fox and Matthews posted 10 and six points, respectively, while Quakers freshmen Hnatkowski, Gold, and Julie Webb scored 11, four, and two points. Walsh, with 15 points, and Alexander, with 10, paced the Gators, with Redcross close behind with nine.

Penn Charter was one of many area squads with youthful rosters this winter. It will be interesting to observe how the Quakers, and their young rivals, mature over the next few seasons.

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