Mount St. Joe freshman Grace Niekelski rises for a lay-up against PC sophomore Lizzie McLaughlin. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Except in the case of a gross mismatch between two teams, it has been particularly difficult to predict the results of girls’ basketball games in the area this winter.

A recent example of this occurred last Sunday in a Catholic Academies – Inter-Ac League crossover contest involving Mount St. Joseph Academy and Penn Charter.

Exactly a week earlier, the Mount Magic were dealt a resounding defeat (58-41) by the Academy of Notre Dame, a team that the visiting PC Quakers had overcome in Inter-Ac play five days before, 56-53.

After the second of these games, Mount St. Joe learned that tenacious senior starter Grace DiGiovanni would have to undergo knee surgery, yet last weekend at the American Cancer Society’s daylong Hoops For Hope event at the University of the Sciences, the Magic led Penn Charter almost wire-to-wire en route to a 48-37 victory.

After the Mounties seized the initiative early on, PC came back to lead briefly in the second quarter, but the Magic were back on top at halftime, 25-19. The Quakers were only five points back at the three-quarter mark, 34-29, but things went downhill for them from there.

Mount senior guard Deirdre Regan hit two free throws early in the final frame and then went seven-for-eight at the line after the Magic got into the foul bonus with just over two minutes remaining. With 11 points overall, she tied for the individual game high with Penn Charter sophomore guard Carmen Williams.

The Mount got eight points apiece from two forwards, sophomore Kelly Rothenberg and freshman Grace Niekelski, while senior Megan Dodaro added seven points and sophomore Lauren Vesey scored six. Five points from junior Maggie Zipfel, two from junior Lauren Cunningham and one from sophomore Taylor Sistrunk completed the MSJ scoring.

Williams’ effort for Charter was complemented by eight points from fellow sophomore Lizzie McLaughlin and seven from freshman guard Janae Stewart. Sophomore Kait Carter finished with three points for the Quakers, who received two apiece from freshmen Laila Hamiter and Kaitlyn Hnatkowsky, sophomore India Barnes and junior Emma Maley.

The Quakers had gone through a week with distinct highs and lows, playing three Inter-Ac bouts before facing the Mount. On Tuesday, the Quakers saw Episcopal Academy pull away to beat them, 50-36. The next day, PC roughed up Baldwin, 53-31, even though the two teams had turned in very similar scores in losses to Springside Chestnut Hill earlier in the season.

Charter then took care of the league cellar dweller, Agnes Irwin, 60-30.

The Mount, which had been 7-1 and unbeaten in the AACA after winning a holiday hoops tournament in December, had run into some roadblocks even before losing DiGiovanni. The Magic fell to non-league opponent Unionville and then suffered their first Academies loss at the hands of a resurgent Villa Maria.

Carmen Williams of Penn Charter drives past a fellow sophomore, Lauren Vesey of the Mount. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

More recently, Gwynedd Mercy avenged a December loss to the Magic by winning 38-32 last Tuesday at the Mount, and in the outing just before the PC game, the Magic dispatched the smallest of the AACA schools, Sacred Heart, by a score of 61-35.

Taking the floor for last weekend’s Hoops For Hope encounter, Mount St. Joe had a record of 5-2 in league play and 9-5 overall, while Penn Charter was 3-3, 10-9.

Lay-ups by Regan, Vesey, Dodaro and Nikelski got the Magic out to an 8-0 lead over the first three minutes before Carter drove in to put PC on the board. The Quakers were back in it by the end of the quarter, only trailing 12-9 after Stewart scored on a follow-in with two seconds left.

The freshman also provided Penn Charter with the first two points of the second round, and two-and-a-half minutes in, Williams hit a field goal that gave the Quakers their first lead of the morning, 13-12. Dodaro answered for the Mount, then Barnes moved Charter ahead for what would be the last time, giving her squad a 15-14 edge.

The Mount moved back in front with five minutes to go in the half, when Zipfel fired a three-pointer. The Magic then went inside, with Niekelski Vesey and Rothenberg all filling the cylinder to spread the score to 23-15 with 90 seconds on the clock.

PC was in a little better shape by the time the interlude arrived, as another field goal by MSJ’s Rothenberg was sandwiched in between a trey by McLaughlin and a late free throw by Stewart. The Magic were ahead by six at the break (25-19), when Niekelski led all scorers with eight points.
PC shaved one point off its deficit during a 10-9 third frame. McLaughlin and Williams fueled the Quakers’ offense, each netting a three-pointer and a lay-up.

As the final round got underway, Zipfel bagged a jumper on a Mount inbounds play and Hamiter answered for Charter with a baseline shot. The Magic’s margin then grew to nine points with a baseline drive by Dodaro and Regan’s first two free throws of the fourth quarter. Mount St. Joe was ahead 40-31 with under three-and-a-half minutes left when Penn Charter committed a foul. It was not a shooting offense, but it was the Quakers’ sixth of the half.

Off a steal by Stewart, PC’s Maley hit a lay-up, and when a time-out was called with 3:15 left to play, Charter was within seven points at 40-33. When play resumed, the Magic worked the ball around on offense until Dodaro was fouled with 2:01 on the ticker.

She extracted one point from this first one-and-one, but soon Regan added a pair from the line. After PC’s Stewart drove the lane and scored with 1:19 left to play, her team huddled in a time-out, with the score 43-35.

The Quakers D’ed it up and got a 10-second half-court call against the Mount, but then they missed a lay-up and fouled the rebounder, MSJ’s Regan.
Her two makes at the line were balanced by a drive by Williams, and the Quakers had another sideline chat, now with 52 seconds remaining and the scoreboard reading 45-37.

Once again, an errant Penn Charter shot was rebounded by Regan, who drew a foul and made two free throws, now in a double-bonus situation. A little later, the senior put up the final point for the Mount with three seconds remaining.

Next week in the league, a three-game AACA slate for Mount St. Joseph culminates in a rematch with St. Basil, whom the Magic beat 43-39 the first time around. Meanwhile, the Quakers will try to avenge earlier Inter-Ac losses to Springside Chestnut Hill and Germantown Academy.