Marple tournament MVP Deirdre Regan (left), a Mount St. Joseph senior, gets off a lay-up against Owen J. Roberts’ Diana Rantz. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Ending a decades-old string of appearances in a Conshohocken/Norristown area tournament that originated at the old Archbishop Kennedy and Bishop Kenrick High Schools, Mount St. Joseph Academy hopped the Schuylkill last week to play in the Marple Newtown Holiday Tournament.

The change evidently benefitted the Magic, who went past Penn Wood High School, 66-55, in a semifinal contest on Thursday and then won the championship game the following evening, topping Owen J. Roberts, 43-28. OJR had reached the finals with a 56-26 semifinal victory over the host team from Marple Newtown High School.

Mount senior guard Deirdre Regan was named the MVP of the event, and freshman forward Grace Niekelski was selected for the All-Tournament Team.

With their two tournament wins, the Magic closed out 2017 with a record of 7-1 overall and 2-0 within the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies.

“We’re happy with the way we’re performing right now,” Regan remarked after the championship game. “I think 7-1 is the best start for the Mount in a while.”

Mount St. Joseph took control early in Thursday’s fast-paced semifinal and then progressed to a 51-32 lead by the end of the third quarter. Even allowing Penn Wood to trim the lead in the final frame, the Magic emerged with an 11-point victory.

Niekelski and senior guard Grace DiGiovanni each rang up 14 points and Regan added a dozen for the Mounties, while Penn Wood received a game high of 21 points from Carle Andrews.

The Magic’s next opponent, Owen J. Roberts, brought in a record of 5-2. The Wildcats’ coach, Jeremy Mellon, is a Springfield (Montco) High School graduate.

Several times in the first half, the Mount would begin to build what seemed like a significant lead, only to have OJR get right back in the game. MSJ sophomore guard Lauren Vesey scored the game’s first basket off of a pass from Niekelski in transition, and when Vesey drove for a lay-up with 90 seconds left in the opening quarter, the Mount led 10-4.

Playing good fundamental basketball and taking high-percentage shots, the Wildcats used picks to shed Mount defenders and pull back into a 10-10 tie by the end of the period.

Mount junior Lauren Cunningham (right) keeps the ball away from the paws of OJR Wildcat Olivia LeClaire. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

After Magic senior forward Megan Dodaro put away the rebound of her own shot to start the second quarter, junior Lauren Cunningham connected for a short jumper and Regan scored off a pass from Vesey. The problem was that even when the Magic led by a few baskets, they were in too much of a hurry. Several times they tossed up off-balance jumpers instead of exploring ways to penetrate to the hoop for more straightforward shots.

This allowed Owen J. Roberts to spend more time in possession of the basketball. In the middle of the second quarter the Wildcats ran off seven straight points to go ahead 17-16. Mount St. Joe went back up by three, then committed a foul that led to OJR’s Brooke Greenawald scoring the last two points of the half from the foul line.

MSJ junior forward Kelly Rothenberg, who’d committed the foul, redeemed herself by deftly blocking a Wildcat lay-up, and the half ended with the Magic leading 20-19.

Regan and Niekelski had five points apiece for the Mount, but OJR’s Greenawald and Olivia LeClaire topped the scoresheet with six and eight points, respectively.

At halftime in the Mount locker room, Regan related, “We talked about opening up the lead and keeping it. We wanted to get good shots, because a lot of times in the first half we rushed them. We’d pass just two or three times and then shoot.

“We also talked about pushing the ball in transition more,” she continued. “We knew we had a speed advantage over them. Even our forwards, Grace and Kelly, are really fast.”

It didn’t take long for the Mounties to put their plans into effect, although at the dawn of the third quarter LeClaire hit a 15-footer to give the Wildcats the lead one last time.

OJR would only register two more points in the period, while Mount St. Joe began to take control with two scores from the paint by Rothernberg and a lay-up and a three-pointer from the left corner by Niekelski. DiGiovanni and Vesey also found the basket, and the Magic were able to take a 33-23 advantage into the fourth round.

Using their quickness, the Mounties passed to one another on back door cuts; DiGiovanni, in particular, scored a number of times in this manner during the fourth quarter. With a little under four minutes remaining, the Magic’s margin was up to 18 points (41-23), and there was still a 15-point spread at the final buzzer.

DiGiovanni’s late surge netted her the game high of 14 points, while Niekelski finished with 10, Vesey with six and Regan with five. Rothenberg scored four points and Cunningham and Dodaro added two points apiece.

After LeClaire (10) and Greenawalt (six), the Wildcats received five points from Diana Rantz, three from Hannah Clay and two each from Kylie Cahill and Bridget Guinan.