HOOPS HURTS. Notre Dame’s Rachel Ryan (left) and Springside Chestnut Hill’s Essence Walden make hard contact as Walden corrals a rebound. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

HOOPS HURTS. Notre Dame’s Rachel Ryan (left) and Springside Chestnut Hill’s Essence Walden make hard contact as Walden corrals a rebound. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The Springside Chestnut Hill Academy girls have been suffering through a dry spell on offense in recent weeks, and the pattern persisted out on the Main Line last Thursday, when the Blue Devils lost to the host Irish at the Academy of Notre Dame, 42- 28.

Leading the entire afternoon after opening up with back-to-back three-point field goals, the Irish improved to 6-3 within the Inter-Ac League, with a 10-11 record overall. The Blue Devils, who were down 25-15 at halftime, dipped to 1-10 in league play, and 9-12 against all opponents.

The locals received seven points apiece from eighth-grader Mo’ne Davis and junior Marissa Pownall, six each from sophomore Chloe Burns and junior Essence Walden, and two from senior Caroline Henry. With three of Notre Dame’s eight three-pointers in the game, junior Alex Kane posted a game-high 11 points. A seven-point afternoon put sophomore Casey Walsh next on a list of eight scorers for the winning side.

It was the seventh straight game in which SCH did not get to 40 points on the scoreboard, and in three of those contests the team’s total remained in the 20’s.

“We’re in a scoring drought,” remarked first-year head coach Tony Tucker. “We’re playing as hard as any team in our league, but we just don’t have the offensive output we had earlier in the year. It’s even affecting our free throws – it’s some kind of mental block.

“We go hard in practice and we make shots there,” he continued, “but it’s almost like we’re bad test-takers, where you do well every day in the classroom, but you can’t get the same result on a test.”

Longtime Notre Dame mentor Mary Beth McNichol has seen her team play better, but said “It’s a league game and we’ll take the win. We shot fairly well today [from the floor], but we shot very poorly from the foul line, which we haven’t done all year. It didn’t make a lot of difference, because Springside didn’t shoot well from the line today, either.”

The Irish were six-for-13 from the charity stripe, and the Blue Devils connected on just seven of 19 free throws.

For Notre Dame, it was a different story from the three-point loop, as four triples in the opening quarter had the hosts ahead 15-7 after eight minutes. Coming off the bench, Pownall popped the lone three-pointer of the day for SCH as the second round got underway. After two regular field goals for the Irish, Pownall drove for a lay-up that made it 19-12 two minutes into the period, but Notre Dame outscored the visitors 6-3 the rest of the way to lead by 10 points at the intermission.

For almost six minutes in the third quarter, the hosts only added four points to their total, but the Blue Devils did not score at all. Finally, Walden scored off a pass from eighth-grader Delaney Sweitzer for the visitors’ first points of the second half. The Devils did better in the final minute, though. First, Burns bagged a free throw, then Davis hit a jumper from the left elbow and drove in near the right baseline to score a runner.

For the start of the final frame, SCH at least had the gap back down in single digits, 31-22. The Blue Devils had an opportunity to get a lot closer than that, but in the early minutes of the fourth quarter they were unable to net any points from a pair of two-shot fouls and a one-and-one.

The Irish were up 40-26 halfway through the final frame, but they continued to foul, and their 10th violation of the half resulted in two made free throws by Davis. It was now a 12-point game with just under two-and-a-half minutes to go.

The visitors had only committed four team fouls up to this point, but now that actually worked against them as they had to try and get the ball away from Notre Dame by sending the Irish to the free throw line. More time ticked off the clock as SCH fouled three times to put the hosts into the bonus, and when that happened, Walsh hit both of her shots from the stripe as the final minute approached.

This tacked the 42-38 final score in the board; over the last minute, each team missed two foul shots. Following Kane and Walsh on the stat sheet for the winners were Jill Kane, with six points, Kristen Rogers and Sam Sacchetta with five each, Tess Phillips and Rachel Ryan with three points apiece, and Leanne Purcell, with two.

Sacchetta, a senior small forward, had just returned in Notre Dame’s previous game after suffering a concussion, and projected starting junior guard Caitlin Clark has not played at all for the Irish this season after tearing an ACL. SCH had been competing for several games without injured sophomore forward Destini Curry.

Penn Charter would figure into the plans of both teams in the final week of the regular season. Springside Chestnut Hill, whose only league victory came at PC’s expense, was headed for a rematch on February 10. Notre Dame, contending with PC for third place in the league, would face the Quakers on February 5 and February 12, with Germantown Academy in between.

“Despite our injuries, our kids have continued to battle,” McNichol said. “Our goal now is to win third place in the league and try to get a good seed for the PAISAA (Pa. Independent Schools) tournament.”

Because PAISAA rules would prohibit eighth-graders Davis and Sweitzer from participating in the tourney, SCH is going to opt out this year.

To finish out the regular season, Tucker said, “My main thing is just continuing to play hard, and we also can identify the areas where we want to make improvements in the off-season. Having lost as many games in the league as we have, I’m impressed at the effort the kids keep giving us every time out.”

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