India Barnes brings the ball up the floor for Penn Charter while her sophomore classmate Carmen Williams (right) crosses the court ahead of her. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

For the girls of Penn Charter, last Thursday’s basketball game in their own Dooney Field House was a continuation of their roller coaster ride through the Inter-Ac League schedule.

Six days earlier, PC had put on a plucky performance in a seven-point loss ((61-54) to undefeated league leader Germantown Academy. On the road last Tuesday, the Quakers fell 31-28 to sixth-place Baldwin School, a team they’d beaten by 22 points just two weeks before.

Back home on Thursday afternoon, Charter was 20 seconds away from completing an Inter-Ac season sweep of the Academy of Notre Dame. Riley Gillin, a sophomore for the Irish, had not scored all game, but now she hit a lay-up that sent the contest into overtime at 40-40.

With 21 ticks left in the four-minute OT period, the Quakers were just a point back, 46-45, but then a foul led to a pair of Irish free throws that reinforced the visitors’ lead. Following two missed three-point attempts at PC’s end of the court, a late free throw and field goal gave Notre Dame a 51-45 victory.

Two days earlier at Baldwin, sophomore guard Kait Carter, a second-year starter for Charter, broke a finger during the first quarter. She had it taped up and continued to play, and in the end Baldwin pulled out a victory that dropped the Quakers down to a 4-5 mark in the Inter-Ac.

Following the Notre Dame game two days later, Quakers head coach Joe Maguire pointed out, “Kait normally plays almost the whole game for us. The Baldwin loss was tough, but our girls didn’t hang their heads. They came out and played hard today. We’ve been preaching from day one that our goal is to play together as a team and not rely on one or two players, and I think that showed today.”

Penn Charter was left with a league record of 4-6, while Notre Dame came away 7-2 and remained the closest rival to GA, which on the same afternoon bounced Baldwin, 69-10, to attain an 8-0 mark with four Inter-Ac games remaining.

PC, which had not had to postpone any league contests due to weather conditions in January, still had rematches with Agnes Irwin and Episcopal left to play. Charter defeated Irwin and lost to EA the first time around.

“Now we just want to finish 6-6 and try and get the best seeding we can for the PAISAA (Independent Schools) tournament,” Maguire said.

Summing up Notre Dame’s situation when the Irish arrived at PC, longtime head coach Mary Beth McNichol observed, “In the league, GA is standing up there alone right now, and we had to win this game today to still have any chance of catching them. We also wanted to make sure that we maintained sole possession of second place, and of course you always want to go into the PAISAA tournament on a winning note.”

The statistic that jumped out immediately after the clash concerned the free-throw shooting accuracy of the rival ball clubs.

Notre Dame’s McNichol pointed out that, uncharacteristically for the Irish, “We’ve had a very bad foul-shooting year, so we’re really happy with going 20-for-22 in this game.”

Penn Charter, which normally fares pretty well at the charity stripe, shot nine-for-21. Each team took six free throws in overtime, Notre Dame making five while PC converted three.

Quakers freshman Kaitlyn Hnatkowsky (left) tries to pry the ball loose from Notre Dame junior Mandy McGurk. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

The Quakers hadn’t had much time to address Carter’s injury at Baldwin on Tuesday.

“We didn’t find out until yesterday that [her finger] was definitely broken and she couldn’t play,” Maguire related. “We just had yesterday’s practice to prepare. We moved some people around, without trying to change things too much from what we’d been doing the whole season up to that point.”

In the opening period, Carter’s classmates Lizzie McLaughlin and Carmen Williams each hit a three-point field goal, as did freshman Kaitlyn Hnatkowsky. Another ninth-grader, Laila Hammiter, drove the lane for a buzzer-beating lay-up that gave the hosts an 11-6 advantage for the first quarter. Junior Emma Maley bagged a baseline shot to put PC up by seven early in the second round, then the Irish began to work their way back.

With four different players scoring and with a six-for-six performance at the foul line, Notre Dame moved ahead late in the period, 18-15. PC’s Maguire called a time-out with 29 seconds remaining. Coming back out, the Quakers’ inbounds play got the ball to Hnatkowsky in the left corner, and she netted a “three” that sent the teams to the locker rooms tied at 18-18.

Penn Charter would enjoy an 11-10 edge in the third period, while Notre Dame “won” the fourth quarter, 12-11. After PC scored the first four points of the second half, neither squad would lead by more than three points in the remainder of regulation play. The fourth tie of the second half would be the one that sent the contest into overtime.

While the Quakers’ Hnatkowsky scored most of her 11 total points before halftime, eight of Williams’ 11 came after the interlude. Sophomore forward Hayley Hunt posted all of her 10 points during the last two quarters of regulation, and she and her classmate India Barnes (three points total) would each haul down a total of eight rebounds for the home team.

Notre Dame junior guard Mandy McGurk distributed her game-high 20 points evenly throughout the game, while classmate Maggie Pina, a transfer from Archbishop Carroll, scored the bulk of her 16 points after halftime, including four in OT. Overall, McGurk shot eight-for-eight from the foul line, and Pina was seven-for-seven.

McGurk’s last two free throws of the day broke a 36-all tie and nudged the Irish ahead by two points with 2:07 remaining in the fourth quarter.

PC’s Hunt hit a lay-up and also a free throw awarded on the play to bump her team back into the lead, then one of only two off-target Notre Dame free throws occurred on the first toss of a one-and-one opportunity with 90 seconds to go.

The Quakers were already in the foul double-bonus by this juncture, and early in the final minute Williams made the second of two shots from the line for a 40-38 PC lead. Another trip to the foul line for Penn Charter didn’t alter the score, but it did weaken the opposition as AND forward Emma Kichula exited with her fifth personal.

Still down by two, the Irish called time-out with 30 seconds to go. They were able to get Gillin the ball for a drive from the right side, and her lay-up took a little hop on the rim and fell through with 18 seconds left. Charter was off the mark on a baseline jumper, and overtime ensued with the tally at 40-40.

Both teams missed shots from the paint during the first 90 seconds of the four-minute OT, then Penn Charter enjoyed its last lead of the afternoon when freshman Janae Stewart knocked down one of two free throws. Going ahead for good, the Irish scored on a medium-range jump shot and a drive to enter the final minute with a 44-41 lead.

After Williams made one of two attempts from the free throw line, Charter called time out, then returned to the floor to put Notre Dame into the double bonus with a foul against McGurk. She made both free throws for a 46-42 tally. PC got right back in it when Hnatkowsky was awarded a double-bonus trip to the line with 38 seconds left.

She made the first shot, and when she missed the second free throw, Stewart seized the rebound and when back up for a lay-up, closing up the score to 46-45. The home side of the scoreboard didn’t budge after that, though.

With the clock down to 21 ticks, two free throws by Pina put the visitors up by three, and following a time-out, the Quakers started up the floor.

A miss from the three-point loop by Hnatkowsky was rebounded by Hunt, who flung up an errant shot of her own.

This time, Notre Dame’s Gillin came down with the ball, and with 4.3 seconds left she went to the foul line. She made the first shot, and when she missed the second, she rushed in to collect her own rebound and get off a lay-up for the 51-45 final reckoning.

“I wouldn’t have changed the players who took the free throws for us down the stretch, and we got the ball where we wanted it for shots from the floor,” Maguire said. “Sometimes they just don’t go down. The hope is that our young players will learn from all of these close games we’ve been having, and will be more poised in those situations when they become juniors and seniors.”