In a PAIS semifinal game, Germantown Academy’s Kendall Grasela (right) rises up to release a jump shot against two fellow juniors, Hannah Fox (left) and Ayanna Matthews of Penn Charter. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

In a PAIS semifinal game, Germantown Academy’s Kendall Grasela (right) rises up to release a jump shot against two fellow juniors, Hannah Fox (left) and Ayanna Matthews of Penn Charter. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

It wasn’t the kind of “repeat” that teams find most appealing, but at least the Germantown Academy girls played as deep into the season as possible. Last Saturday at the Pennsylvania Independent Schools basketball tournament final four site at Malvern Prep, GA finished as runner-up to Shipley School for the second year in a row, falling to the Gators, 53-49.

In this year’s back-and-forth final, GA trailed after one quarter (18-14), led after two (33-30) and went into the final period one point behind (40-39). After Shipley levered its lead out to seven points early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots fought back to a one-point shortfall (47-46) with two minutes left, but got no closer.

The solitary senior on the roster, Wesleyan-bound guard Olivia Gorman, rang down the curtain on her Germantown Academy career with a game-high 17-point scoring effort. Junior guard Erin Lindahl also reached double figures, with 13, while her classmates Kendall Grasela (guard) and Lauren Oeth (forward) offered six and five points, respectively. Rounding it out were sophomore guard Abby Starzecky, with four points, and freshmen Alexa Naessens (forward) and Cat Polisano (guard), each with two points.

Although they didn’t recapture the PAIS championship that has eluded them since their 2009-2011 run, the Patriots did come away with a title this year, earning the Inter-Ac League crown for the first time since 2012. They posted an overall record of 21-6, with four of those loses coming against well-regarded out-of-state opponents.

Receiving a first-round bye in the PAIS tourney due to their top-seed status, the Pats opened play in the quarterfinal round last Wednesday. GA did not perform as masterfully as some might have expected against visiting Abington Friends, the ninth seed for the Indy tournament, and the third-place team in the Friends Schools League this season.

A solid first-quarter netted the Pats a 16-10 advantage, but they only added three points to their lead the rest of the way in a 48-39 win. Oeth checked off a dozen each in the points and rebounds categories, while Gorman added 10 points and Lindahl and Naessens scored seven points apiece. AFS got a game-high 15 points from junior guard Asia Turner.

GA moved on to face fourth-seeded Penn Charter in the first of Friday’s semifinal games. In their home/away series within the Inter-Ac League, Germantown had beaten PC twice by 20-point margins, but this time a more determined Quakers club forced the Patriots to settle for a modest single-digit victory.

Actually, GA looked like it might be on the way to a third big win over Charter as it went up by a dozen points in the first half, 27-15. Gorman led the way with nine points; she and Starzecky each hit three pointers while Lindahl worked closer in for a breakaway lay-up, a baseline jumper, and two free throws.

PC junior guards Hannah Fox and Ayanna Matthews accounted for the first seven points scored after halftime, but by the end of the third round, a buzzer-beating lay-up by Gorman had provided the Patriots with a double-digit lead once more, 38-28. The sharpshooting senior hit her third ‘three’ of the day to make it a 13-point affair at the dawn of the fourth quarter, but then GA was rocked by a 16-4 Penn Charter resurgence.

The count was 45-44 with two minutes left, and Germantown worked the ball around the perimeter of its offensive set to wind down the clock. PC had to foul to prevent this, and after the Patriots whiffed on two one-and-one chances, they settled down and went six-for-six from the stripe in the final 43 seconds. Lindahl scored four of these points and Gorman notched the other two as Germantown went through to the finals with a five-point victory.

Gorman grabbed six rebounds while scoring a game-high 21 points, and Lindahl and Grasela had 12 and seven points, respectively. Oeth finished with two points and sophomore forward Lilly Bolen scored three. PC (17-13 overall) was paced by 15 points from Fox, 13 from Matthews, and 11 from sophomore forward Mireyah Davis.

Many Inter-Ac League fans were looking forward to a rubber match between GA and Episcopal Academy in the Indy Schools championship game. The teams had split in their official home/away series within the league, but Germantown had won the 2015 championship with an 11-1 record because an earlier loss to Penn Charter caused the EA Churchwomen to come in with a final mark of 10-2.

A third meeting between the former and current champs never occurred, since Episcopal was derailed in the semifinals by the defending PAIS champion, Shipley School. Like many area teams, the Gators had experienced a roller coaster season. Shipley’s roster was headed by two Division I signees, guard Nia Holland (Lafayette) and 6’4” center Martine Fortune (Georgia Tech), but the team had lost a longtime head coach and had dealt with injuries most of the season.

As the season wound down, the Bryn Mawr squad had two regulars out of action entirely, and some others playing at less than 100 percent. The Gators received a shock on February 13, seeing their four-year reign in the Friends Schools League end with a loss to Friends Central in the league championship game.

The Gators would respond well to adversity in the Indy Schools tournament, where a repeat as champion would overbalance a lot of disappointments earlier in the year.

Drawing the second seed and a bye that went with it, they started out in the second round by beating number seven Baldwin, 49-39. With a short bench, they had to stay out of serious foul trouble in the PAIS final four, and they did so in both games.

Shipley built up a double-digit lead over EA in the second of Friday’s semifinals. It disappeared in the fourth quarter as the Churchwomen forged ahead, 40-38, but Shipley mustered up one last scoring spurt to win the contest, 44-40.

GA had a concern on the medical front when Oeth went down with a hamstring injury in the Penn Charter game, and was sidelined for the duration. Her recovery time would be cut short when the weather forecast for Saturday caused the title bout to be moved up from 5:00 PM to 9:30 AM.

Starting for the Patriots the following morning against Shipley, Oeth took another tumble at the start of the second quarter. She was slow to get up, but returned to action before long.

Lindahl launched the game’s scoring from the three-point loop and Grasela drove in to give the Patriots a 5-0 edge. Shipley junior forward Courtney Redcross sandwiched a lay-up and two free throws around a score off a rebound by Grasela to make it 7-4.

The Gators’ imposing post player, Fortune, had been held to just four points in the FSL finals the previous week, but in the PAIS tourney she began with 15 points against Baldwin and then rang up a game-high 18 points against Episcopal. In the last four minutes of Saturday’s opening quarter, she scored three times from under the basket, helping send Shipley into the second period with an 18-14 lead over the Patriots.

The new stanza began with a steal-and-score by Shipley’s 10th-grade rising star, guard Yndiah Bobo (it was on this play that Oeth aggravated her earlier injury). Soon, a fourth field goal by Fortune gave the Gators an eight-point advantage. GA’s Gorman has revived her team’s offense from a swooning spell many times this season, and here she perked up the Pats with a triple from the top of the key. Sophomore Abby Starzecky followed up with a short jumper in transition, and GA was back on the right track.

Gorman and Lindahl each hit three-pointers later on, and at halftime Germantown was ahead, 33-30. Lindahl led all scorers with 11 points, and Gorman and Shipley’s Fortune were right behind, with 10 apiece.

Over the first four minutes of the third quarter, field goals by Redcross, Holland, and Fortune pushed Shipley ahead, 36-33, before a drive by Gorman pried loose GA’s side of the scoreboard half-a-minute later. Redcross had picked up her third personal during this stretch, and the Gators had committed three team fouls.

After Gorman scored for GA, Shipley’s Bobo was sent to the line and made a pair of free throws to produce a 38-35 Gators lead, but on a positive note for the Patriots, it was only their second team foul, and less than three minutes remained in the third quarter. This potential advantage went right out the window as the Patriots committed three more fouls before the end of the period, and immediately racked up a sixth team violation as the fourth round got underway.

After ninth-grader Naessens had scored on a drive to get the Patriots back within one point at the end of the third quarter (40-39), the early foul in the fourth sent Shipley senior guard Meredith Maguire to the line for two of her three points in the contest. From here on, the Gators would be in the bonus and then in the double bonus, and although they only made seven of their 15 free throws in the final frame, it would be enough to help them outscore GA, 13-10.

For the game, the Gators were 17 for 29 from the line, with two of the misses coming on the first shots of a one-and-one. The Pats were three-for-eight overall, and one-for-six in the second half.

After Maguire’s free throws, Bobo scored in transition and Holland put in a pair from the charity stripe, and the Bryn Mawr ballclub appeared to be rolling to the title, now up 46-39. Germantown freshman guard Cat Polisano, who had subbed into the game, popped in a short jumper, and after a Shipley one-and-one bore no fruit, Gorman knocked down her third trey of the day, drawing GA within two points of the leaders with over three minutes remaining.

When the Patriots committed their 10th team foul, Shipley’s Maguire made one of her two tosses, then a GA pass by sophomore Lilly Bolen found Oeth on a backdoor cut. With 2:04 on the clock, GA called time-out, only trailing 47-46.

Shipley appeared to benefit more from the pause, coming back out to engineer a two-on-one break for a score by Redcross, and then having Bobo steal the ball back to net a lay-up. The 10th grader missed a free throw awarded on the play, so when Lindahl scored on a put-back for GA, the Pats were down 51-48 when they called their final time-out with 1:02 left to play.

GA fouled Bobo, who made the first of two shots and then raced in to grab the rebound of her errant second stroke. She got the ball away to Holland, who was quickly fouled with 54 seconds to go. Holland missed on both of her attempts, but a fellow senior, GA’s Gorman, had left the court with her fifth personal foul as a result of the whistle.

The Patriots’ Oeth and the Gators’ Bobo each made one of two free throws over the next half-minute. GA started back down on offense with 21 ticks on the clock, behind 53-49 and needing two scores. However, the Patriots didn’t get off even one shot until only three seconds remained; the attempt from the right baseline wouldn’t go down, and Shipley celebrated.

The Gators got 16 points from Bobo, 14 from Holland, and 12 from Fortune in the victory, with Redcross and Maguire adding eight and three points, respectively.

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  • Thierry Fortune

    I am a shipley parent. All I can say is… Wow! What a great article. You did a fantastic job researching and capturing the spirit of the final game and the build up.