Charter sophomore Lizzie McLaughlin (left) guards Episcopal’s Olivia Dirks. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The Penn Charter girls were leading host Episcopal Academy a few minutes into the second quarter, and they were only down by three points at halftime in last Tuesday’s Inter-Ac hoops contest.

By the end of the third quarter, though, the Quakers had fallen behind by 10 points (35-25), and the gap grew as large as 19 in the fourth period before the Churchwomen came away with a 50-36 victory.

Penn Charter drove home with an overall record of 8-9 and a 1-3 mark in league play, while Episcopal improved to 6-8, 2-2.

After some losses due to inconsistent play during the 2017 portion of the season, PC had just climbed back to the .500 mark, logging three straight wins from January 9-14. In the first of these games, the Quakers picked up an important Inter-Ac road victory against the Academy of Notre Dame, 56-53. In non-league action on the road, they downed Hatboro Horsham High School, 43-33, and then two days before the Episcopal clash they fought off a comeback attempt by Delaware’s Ursuline Academy to prevail 48-38.

However, ups and downs are to be expected from a youthful ball club made up mostly of freshmen and sophomores, with one junior starter in guard Emma Maley.

“We’d had three good games where we kept our focus,” commented head coach Joe Maguire. “We had some challenging points in the Ursuline game, and we rose to that challenge.

“Today,” he continued, “we got a little behind but there were still times in the third quarter when we could’ve come back pretty quickly. We didn’t answer the call, though. We kind of got down and stayed down – the sign of a young team.”

Two bellwether players for Charter are sophomore guards Kait Carter and Carmen Williams, usually among the scoring leaders for the squad. While Episcopal Academy had graduated 6’2″ Elodie Furey (now a freshman on the team at Cornell University), the team still has good average height, including guards with a long reach.

“When we play teams that match up well with Carmen and Kait, it’s a problem for us,” PC’s Maguire admitted.

The two 10th-graders scored nine points between them. Carter actually opened the scoring for the visitors after EA junior Olivia Dirks canned a three-pointer. Three-balls would continue to rain down throughout the first quarter. Sophomore Lizzie McLaughlin came off the Quakers’ bench to hit two of them, and EA senior Seanna McNamara tossed in three, including one at the first-quarter buzzer that had the Churchwomen leading 16-11.

Kait Carter, a PC sophomore, makes her way toward the basket. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Charter made a strong start in the second period, with India Barnes joining in the scoring by bagging a “three.” The visitors forged ahead, 19-16, but then the offense stalled. EA ran off the last six points of the quarter to take a 22-19 edge into the halftime locker room.

Episcopal experimented with defenses in the first half, going from zone to man-to-man and then back again.

“We were really just trying to keep them from penetrating the middle,” explained Episcopal head coach Chuck Simmonds. “The second time we went to zone, it worked. We cut the penetration down and we slowed things down and played more at our pace.”

Out on the court in this contest were the daughters of two former Philadelphia Eagles, freshman Laila Hamiter of Penn Charter (Uhuru “Joby” Hamiter) and senior Luca Mamula of Episcopal (Mike Mamula).

The 5’11” Mamula, normally a force on the inside for the Churchwomen, had only scored two points before halftime (during the 6-0 run that closed the first half). After the intermission, she would come on to add 13 points and emerge with a game-high 15. Teammate Katie Weaver, a 5’10” senior, posted six of her eight points after halftime.

“We went to Luca, and we got Katie Weaver some looks, too,” Simmonds said. “We were hoping to get those kind of one-on-one’s inside. In addition to slowing things down on defense, we also slowed things down on offense. Everybody started touching the ball, and we got a lot more of the opportunities we wanted.”

In round three, the Quakers got three pointers from Carter and McLaughlin, but they were outscored 13-6 by the host team, which was getting most of its points inside.

“We ended up playing their game,” PC’s Maguire observed. “They saw where they could get the match-ups they wanted. On defense, they didn’t have a foul against them in the second half, which was a sign of our lack of aggressiveness. We let them sit in their zone, which they can do well with a lot of players who are big and long.”

The Churchwomen came out of the third period with a 10-point advantage, and Mamula singlehandedly outscored PC 9-2 over the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. The visitors did get a nice spark off the bench from freshman guard Janae Stewart, who deposited three field goals.

For the most part, though, there was a noticeable difference in the demeanor of the two teams; Episcopal appeared intent on capturing a league victory, while the Quakers often looked as if they were casually working the ball around in a scrimmage situation.

That was a shame, because while the five teams in the middle of the Inter-Ac pack have their different strengths, there’s not a significant difference between them in terms of overall talent. Germantown Academy is undefeated at the forefront of the league and Agnes Irwin lags at the rear, but PC, Episcopal, Springside Chestnut Hill, Baldwin and Notre Dame could each beat one another on a given day.

As Episcopal’s Simmonds put it, “It’s a good sign that the league is getting more and more competitive, but it also means that you’re going to be challenged every time you go out there.”

McLaughlin led Penn Charter last Tuesday with 12 points, and Carter and Stewart scored eight and six, respectively. Hamiter, sophomore Hayley Hunt and freshman Kaitlyn Hnatkowsky had two points apiece, Barnes added three and Williams scored one point.

With her game-high 15 for Episcopal, Mamula was one point ahead of McNamara, with Weaver contributing eight points and Dirks putting up seven. Four points from Raeleen Keffer-Scharpf and two from Cara Harty (both sophomores) rounded out the scoring for the victors.