Caroline Clark handles the ball while guarded by Upper Dublin’s Jess Polin. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The girls of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy gave a good account of themselves at the 2017 Cardinal Classic Basketball tournament last weekend.

Facing a very good team from tourney host Upper Dublin High School in last Wednesday’s semifinal round, the Blue Devils fell behind 12-0, but then recovered to trail by as few as five points in the second half before succumbing to the host Cardinals, 53-43. SCH then went neck-and-neck with Gwynedd Mercy Academy throughout Thursday’s consolation game. The Devils moved up out of a 49-49 tie with just over a minute to go, winning 52-49 as junior guard Mo’ne Davis went three-for-four from the foul line.

In the championship game, Upper Dublin dispatched Allentown Central Catholic High School, 31-18; ACC had advanced by edging Gwynedd, 24-23,
in the semifinals.

Under the leadership of first-year head coach Flo Hagains, Springside Chestnut Hill (5-4 overall) is learning how to win close games. Before last week’s tournament, the Blue Devils had opened the Inter-Ac League season by rallying to a 50-46 victory over Penn Charter.

Following the Gwynedd win, Hagains related, “We told the girls after the game that now they could see why we’ve been working on things that would help us at the end of a close game. This was a close, tough game, like the one at Penn Charter, and we had enough composure to pull it out.”

Upper Dublin had lost its season opener to a strong Central Buck South club, but since then Cardinals have gone on a win streak that left them with a 7-1 record following last week’s tournament.

The team balances good outside shooting with the inside efforts of 6’2” sophomore Jackie Vargas. After freshman Dayna Balasa raced down to score right off the opening tip, she and a teammate each netted a three-pointer and Vargas scored twice down low to put the Cardinals up 12-0.

Not losing heart, SCH got on the board with a free throw by Davis and then had junior Caroline Clark net a “three” from the left wing. Three seniors, forwards Nya Searight and Destiny Rogers and guard Joelle Bridges, joined in on the scoring.

The Devils got their deficit down to nine points by the end of the first quarter, and then down to eight (29-21) with a little over a minute remaining in the first half. A short jumper from the lane by Davis was answered with a transition strike by UDHS senior Nicole Kaiser, then a trey from the left corner by Bridges narrowed the gap to five points with 14 seconds to go. On an inbounds play on the baseline right at the buzzer, Vargas hit a lay-up for the Cards to make it 33-26 at halftime.

After Upper Dublin’s Balasa led all scorers at the intermission with 11 points, SCH shut her out in the second half. However, the Blue Devils could not contain Vargas, who put up nine points in the first half and ten in the second for a game-high 19.

She had the first basket of the third quarter, but then Davis and Rogers both scored for Springside Chestnut Hill to make it a five-point affair again, now at 35-30. The Blue Devils would get no closer, though, with three-pointers by Kaiser and senior Maggie Weglos and three scores from the paint by Vargas helping Upper Dublin pull away and take a 47-33 advantage into the final period.

Clark canned a pair of three-pointers and SCH was within eight points of the leaders two times in the fourth quarter before Vargas hit her final lay-up for a 10-point verdict at the end.

SCH senior forward Destiny Rogers (right) not only went after the ball in the air, but also on the floor. Here she’s trying to pry the ball loose from Gwynedd’s Reganne Flannery. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Davis and Clark led the Blue Devils with 12 and 11 points, respectively, with nine points coming from Searight, seven from Bridges and four from Rogers. There were three double-digit scorers for Upper Dublin; Vargas (19), Kaiser (13) and Balasa (11).

The earlier semifinal involving Gwynedd Mercy and Allentown Central Catholic had not exactly been a marksmanship clinic, with the teams managing 47 just points between them. To add some firepower for Thursday’s consolation game, Gwynedd (4-3) decided to start a freshman guard out of St. Philip Neri School, Kaylie Griffin.

The daughter of St. Joseph’s University coach Cindy Griffin (who was a star guard in Bishop McDevitt High School’s 1980’s heyday), the Monarchs’ ninth grader responded to the challenge by sinking five three-pointers in the first half of the game against SCH.

Although the Blue Devils were up a point at the close of the first quarter, 14-13, with two minutes to go until halftime Griffin bagged her fifth trey and Gwynedd led 26-20. Davis responded with a triple of her own, and after GMA sophomore Reganne Flannery exchanged short jump shots with SCH’s Bridges, Springside Chestnut Hill took a modest 25-28 deficit into the locker room.

In the first half, Coach Hagains explained, “We didn’t make the adjustment for their shooter. At halftime we settled our players down and went to a man-to-man, and that shooter didn’t score after that. I think just tightening up the defense in general helped us in the second half, especially at the end.”

During a fairly even ebb and flow in the third quarter, the Monarchs picked up a point and headed into round four up 38-34. In the first two minutes Gwynedd tacked another two points onto its lead, then around the middle of the fourth quarter SCH sandwiched a trey by Davis and an “and-one” sequence by Rogers around a lone lay-up by GMA senior Bridget Casey. The Devils were now just two points back, 46-44.

After Gwynedd turned the ball over, Springside Chestnut Hill almost did the same thing, but Rogers managed to tie the ball up and the arrow pointed her team’s way.

“Destiny made a big difference for us; she worked hard and she hustled,” Hagains commented.

The senior would score nine of her 13 points in the second half. Fouled on a shooting attempt with 2:41 left on the clock, she made her first free throw and missed the second. On the second shot, Searight rebounded the ball a little outside the paint and went back up, leaning toward the basket while in the air and putting in a lay-up. The Blue Devils now led for the first time since the second quarter of the game, 47-46.

The Monarchs couldn’t cash in on a chance to go ahead again, missing a pair of free throws down at their end. On a coast-to-coast romp down the court, Davis went to the hoop for a bucket that made it 49-46 and Gwynedd called time-out with 1:44 to go.

When play resumed, as the Blue Devils’ coach related, “We got caught on a double screen and gave up the three.”

It was GMA junior Alyssa Martin who netted a three-ball from the left wing, knotting the score at 49-all with 90 seconds remaining in the game.

SCH moved ahead again when Davis drained two free throws with 1:07 on the clock; this was the Monarchs’ sixth team foul of the half, while the Devils still only had three against them.

Gwynedd’s next possession ended with an off-target shot, but the Monarchs got the ball back when they trapped one of the Blue Devils along the sideline and forced a turnover. GMA called time-out with 23.7 seconds left, still down 51-49. After moving the ball around in the offensive set, Gwynedd had a player try to drive down the lane and lose control of the ball.

Davis snatched it up for Springside Chestnut Hill and was fouled with exactly one second remaining. She made the first of her two shots on the one-and-one, and on one last inbounds play for the Monarchs their long pass actually glanced off an SCH player as time ran out.

Davis recorded a game-high 17 points and Rogers scored 13, with Searight and Clark posting nine points apiece. Bridges and freshman Kaitlyn Pearcy each scored two. With her 15 first-half points, the young Griffin was Gwynedd’s top scorer, and senior guard Carly Heineman also reached double figures, with 12 points.