The Mount’s Kristen Lucas (right) guards another junior forward, Erica DeCandido of Gwynedd Mercy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

The Mount’s Kristen Lucas (right) guards another junior forward, Erica DeCandido of Gwynedd Mercy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In last Saturday’s Catholic Academies basketball battle at Gwynedd Mercy, 13 was a lucky number for the host Monarchs. For visiting Mount St. Joseph – not so much.

Up until last weekend, Gwynedd hadn’t beaten the Mount in basketball since 2002. Back then, the Monarchs played some sports as an affiliate of the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies, and other sports, including basketball, within the Bicentennial League.

Now, 13 years later, the GMA hoopsters finally got the Mount monkey off their backs after a dozen seasons of frustration. Building a 13-point lead over the visiting Magic during the third quarter, the Monarchs held off their rivals in the fourth period to prevail, 32-26.

Senior point guard Mary Kate Ulasewicz scored nine points to lead Mount St. Joe, which received eight points from junior shooting guard Libby Tacka while junior forwards Sarah Wills and Kristen Lucas contributed six and three points, respectively.

Gwynedd shooting guard Brigit Coleman, a junior, was the only scorer in this defensive struggle to reach double figures, making four of six free throws and finishing with 10 points. While each team boasts several skilled three-point shooters, the opposition knew exactly who they were, and the only trey of the day was made by Gwynedd freshman guard Carly Heineman at the start of the second quarter.

She gave seven points to the winning cause, and there were six points from forward Erica DeCandido and five from guard Maggie Cameron, both juniors. Most of the Monarchs’ ballhandling chores fell upon the lone full-time senior starter, Emily Sullivan, as well as freshman Maura Conroy (four points), who showed a great deal of poise for a ninth-grader in a high-pressure game.

The two successful ball clubs have now split their home/away series (MSJ won 48-43 on January 8) and their seasons continue to move in parallel. They both owned overall records of 18-2 after Saturday’s game, and Gwynedd was 11-1 within the AACA while the Magic were 10-1. This week the Monarchs close out regular season play in the league in a contest at Merion Mercy, while Mount St. Joe still has encounters with St. Basil and Villa Maria on its itinerary.

Exactly a week before the recent MSJ-Gwynedd rematch, the Monarchs had completed a season sweep of third-place St. Basil. The Monarchs’ margins of victory over the Panthers were 16 and 19 points; in the lone Mount-Basil’s game up to that point, the visiting Magic prevailed, 33-27.

Before last Saturday’s clash, Mount St. Joe had played only once during the week, winning at home on Thursday against Merion Mercy, 52-43. The Magic, who led 26-23 at the half, saw Ulasewicz finish with a game-high 16 points, with Wills and Lucas adding 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Gwynedd had played two league games on back-to-back days, topping visiting Villa Joseph Marie, 50-26, on Wednesday, and then visiting Villa Maria to record a 43-34 victory paced by a 13-point effort by DeCandido.

Last Saturday the Gwynedd gym was packed and the two teams were keyed up for the clash between the title contenders. Before a single point was scored, there were a combined three turnovers and two fouls marked down on the stat sheet. With 2:13 elapsed, MSJ’s Wills broke the ice with a short jumper, and she later added a 15-footer from the right wing. Gwynedd got a midrange jumper and a converted rebound from DeCandido, and held a 7-6 edge at the end of the opening period.

Round two began with Heineman’s three-pointer for the Monarchs, who soon added a Coleman field goal from just below the foul line. The Mount’s Ulasewicz also bagged a jumper from near the charity stripe and hit one of two free throws awarded her. Gwynedd’s Cameron scored off an offensive rebound to give the Monarchs a 14-9 advantage at the intermission.

Despite the aggressive defense played by both squads, neither team reached the foul bonus in the first half, and the only players with more than one foul were Gwynedd’s Cameron and Mount senior forward Emily Carpenter, who had been replaced by Lucas.

MSJ’s Wills kicked off the third round by hitting two free throws to make it a three-point game, but later in the opening minute the home team embarked on an 8-0 run. The Monarchs found DeCandido wide open for a lay-up, and seconds later Conroy stole the ball back and scored, forcing an MSJ time-out with 7:09 still to go in the third quarter and the score at 18-11.

Coleman made good on a drive, but when Sullivan and Cameron each picked up a third personal foul half-a-minute apart, it was GMA head coach Tom Lonergan’s turn to call a time-out and settle his squad down. The Monarchs returned to have Coleman capitalize on a steal by DeCandido, and Gwynedd had the Mounties doubled up at 22-11.

With 4:50 still left in the third, the Mount acquired its first field goal of the second half on a lay-up by Lucas, who also netted a foul shot on the play. After the hosts recouped one point on a Coleman free throw, one of their freshmen, Heineman, stuck a jumper from the left wing and then went inside for a lay-up off of a team mate’s pass. The Monarchs now had their largest lead of the afternoon, 27-14, with 2:02 to go in the third period.

Pausing for a time-out, the Magic improved their situation before the close of the quarter. They’d managed just one field goal over the previous eight minutes, but now Ulasewicz put in a short jumper from the right side of the lane, and a steal by Lucas led to a transition bucket by Tacka. On Gwynedd’s last possession of the third stanza, Lucas came up with a block to keep the Magic’s deficit in single figures, 27-18.

As the fourth frame progressed, the ticking of the clock gradually strengthened Gwynedd’s position as a baseline jumper by Cameron furnished the only points for either team over the first three-and-a-half minutes. Over the next 50 seconds, MSJ’s Tacka deposited a pair of lay-ups to make it a seven-point affair, 29-22.

The Monarchs committed a turnover with an errant pass, but when the Magic drove into traffic near the GMA basket, the ball came loose and was recovered by Gwynedd’s Sullivan. Mount mentor John Miller called time-out, with a seven-point deficit, six team fouls charged to his ball club, and 2:15 on the clock.

The Magic were getting into a situation where they had to foul to keep their rivals from draining the clock, and the Monarchs cooperated by coming up empty on a pair of one-and-one’s. However, during the MSJ possession in between, the Magic had missed two field goal attempts, and a tie-up after the second shot found the arrow pointing to the home team.

Gwynedd’s sixth team foul came on a shooting attempt by the Mount’s Ulasewicz. She knocked down both free throws to make it 29-24, but now the board showed just 42.7 seconds to play.

A foul 10 ticks later led to Coleman making the first of two tosses for Gwynedd. The Magic now missed a pair of shots from three-point range; after the first, the ball had caromed out of bounds off a GMA body. The second long shot was rebounded by the Magic, but they turned the ball over on a walk with 11 seconds remaining. The Mounties committed their 10th team foul, and the Monarchs’ Coleman pulled both points from the double-bonus boon.

This levered the lead back to eight points, and the final margin was locked in at six after MSJ’s Ulasewicz scored a runner with two seconds remaining in the game.

The Monarchs played well as a team and were quick to recognize opportunities on offense when they appeared. Just as important, the Gwynedd defense made the Magic work very hard for every point they got.