Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, girls’ champions at the 2019 NFA Snowball Tournament. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

There were new champions at Norwood Fontbonne Academy’s long-running Snowball tournament, as the St. Philip Neri School boys team and the girls of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy emerged victorious from last week’s five-day event.

St. Philip, a champion in years past, knocked off two-time defending champ Penn Charter in the semifinals, 39-32, then took the title by defeating Germantown Friends School in the championship game on Sunday morning, 39-28.

The girls of Germantown Friends also reached the finals at the 2019 Snowball, and in a low-scoring contest the Tigers fell to the Blue Devils of SCH, 16-12.

On Wednesday evening the first varsity contest of the 2019 Snowball event pitted the Penn Charter middle school boys’ varsity against the ”B” team from the host school, “Norwood Blue.”

Charter charged to a 10-0 lead and was ahead 28-8 at the half. Even with the loan of seventh-grader Tom Donovan from its “A” team, “Norwood Gold,” the Bears were unable to get back in this one, falling 50-13. Donovan scored seven points for NFA, while PC was led by 14 points from Christian Black and 12 from Lance Kay.

A pattern of lopsided outcomes persisted into the second night of the tourney, when the girls of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy defeated Our Mother of Consolation, 35-9, and the boys of St. Philip Neri secured a 37-8 verdict over Holy Rosary.

SCH brought a lot of players and they all got to see action. The team’s high scorer, eighth-grader Lisa “Louie” McIntyre, scored all of her seven points in the first quarter to help get the Blue Devils out to a 16-0 lead. Her classmate Julania Marechal-Raymond netted six points while for OMC Ellie Verrill captured a share of the game-high scoring honors by putting up seven points.

In the boys’ game that followed, St. Philip was up 17-0 before Holy Rosary got on the board in the second quarter with a free throw by Connor Archbold. Tyler Gartland recorded a game-high 12 points and Eric Hannity added six points, heading a list of eight Saints scorers. With four points, Jackson Maguire accounted for half of Holy Rosary’s total.

While not a nailbiter, Thursday evening’s final game was closer than any Snowball contest up to that point. The boys of St. Eleanor School got away to a 6-0 lead at was up 15-7 at the quarter, but by halftime Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) was back within three at 21-18.

In the third quarter St. Eleanor (which hails from Collegeville, Pa.) widened the gap to 12 points before IHM cut that lead in half. After St. Eleanor got up by a dozen once more early in the fourth quarter, IHM could get no closer than nine. The winners received 13 points from J.T. Brady and 10 from Matt Tsiaras, while IHM’s Colin Fisher rang up a game-high 15 points and Tommy Markey added 12 for the Andorra ensemble.

On Friday at the Snowball there was a mini clinic presented by the Chestnut Hill College men’s basketball team and also an NFA alumni game at the end of the evening. This was also when Norwood’s two top varsity teams swung into action, with both the boys and the girls squaring off against counterparts from Germantown Friends School.

Up first, the girls didn’t roll over the numbers on the scoreboard very quickly during the first half, which came to an end with GFS just ahead of the Bears, 8-6. The Tigers gained a little more separation in the second half, winning 21-15 with eight points from Margaret Harvey, six from Mia Raven and five from Nyobi Murphy. Norwood was led by Kayleigh Howard, with six points, and Lucia Smigiel, with four.

After halftime arrived in the boys’ game with Norwood ahead 18-16, the Bears maintained a narrow lead in the early minutes of the third quarter.

NFA was up 21-19, but then GFS moved ahead with a 7-0 run that included a very long three-point field goal by Muhsin Muhammad. The Tigers were leading by eight points before NFA’s Liam May drove to the hoop for the final points of the third period, making it 31-25.

Two-and-a-half minutes into the fourth quarter Chris Convey bagged a trey for the Bears that brought them a little closer at 35-30, but that’s as close as Norwood would get.

Muhammad netted 11 of his game-high 19 points during the Tigers’ second-half charge, while 10 points came from Jaden Palmer-Waldron and eight were added by Amir Staten. Norwood’s Kevin Doerzbacher, Liam May and Zahir Coleman registered 10, eight and six points, respectively.

There was still one more opening-round game to be played on the girls’ side, and that led off Saturday morning’s activities. Holy Rosary gained a 17-8 advantage over Penn Charter by the end of the first half, then maintained roughly the same margin until the game ended at 29-19. Ava Adamson rolled up 20 points to lead the victors, and the Quakers logged 10 points for Macie Bergman.

After this, Saturday’s semifinal games determined which teams would advance to the championship games in the boys’ and girls’ brackets. The GFS girls were lined up against a Holy Rosary squad that was now missing two regular starters, including Adamson. The Tigers cruised, 58-16, receiving 14 points apiece from Harvey and Stella Ragas, and 10 from Murphy. Annalise Bilardo led Holy Rosary with a 10-point performance.

The other girls’ semifinal was moved from morning to afternoon because a few of the SCH athletes are also soccer players who were shuttling back and forth from Chestnut Hill to a soccer tournament in Lancaster. Several of them arrived just before game time, and the Blue Devils took a while to settle in as the Saints scored the first six points of the contest.

Springside Chestnut Hill cut its deficit to one point (7-6) by the end of the first quarter, then surged ahead in a 19-4 second quarter.

St. Philip reduced its deficit by four points in the third round (31-21) and then made a run in the fourth quarter. Both teams left points on the free throw line, but in the final minute the Saints scored on a drive by Keira Trainer and a put-back by Georgia Pickett to make it a five-point game. SCH held on for a 40-35 victory, marking down 12 points for Madison Major, 11 for Tatayana Hall, nine for Abby Fitzmaurice (three three-pointers) and eight for McIntyre. Pickett led the Saints with 11 points, while Trainer finished with seven.

St. Philip Neri, boys’ champions at the 2019 NFA Snowball Tournament. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

It should be noted that the St. Philip team entered in the Snowball varsity bracket was actually the school’s “B” team; the “A” team has been crushing competitors all over the region and it was decided that the “B” squad would be a better fit for the local tournament.

The Snowball boys’ semifinals were played back-to-back on Saturday evening. Penn Charter fell behind St. Philip 8-0 and caught up at 10-10 on a trey by Shawn Flynn, then SPN pulled away again to lead 21-11 at halftime, when Gartland already had 10 points in the books.

The Saints appeared to be in command as they began the fourth quarter with a 31-19 advantage, but the Quakers rallied late. They were still down by nine with just over 30 seconds to go, then Scott Doran converted off of a rebound and Davin Barnett stole the ball back and scored to make it 37-32. Charter couldn’t score again, though, and the Saints’ Tom Flaharty netted two free throws to put the 39-32 final on the board.

In the other semifinal, there was a second-half rally that didn’t fall short. Germantown Friends slipped 11 points behind in the first quarter and St. Eleanor still led 27-18 at halftime. At the break Germantown’s Muhammad topped all scorers with 11 points and Tsiaras paced St. Eleanor with seven.

By the end of the third round the Tigers were right back in it, only behind 31-29. St. Eleanor edged up to a four-point lead (35-31) a few minutes into the fourth quarter, then GFS had Palmer-Waldron score off of a rebound. When Muhammad hit a lay-up off a steal and tacked on a free throw, the Tigers moved ahead, 36-35, with 3:03 remaining.

St. Eleanor did not score again, while the Tigers added six points from the free throw line for a 42-35 win. The game-high of 20 points belonged to Muhammad, while Palmer-Waldron put up 15 points for the winners. St. Eleanor got nine points from Tsiaras, eight from Mitchell Karp and seven from Cam Paquette.

Every varsity team at the Snowball Tournament was afforded the opportunity to play in at least two games, and the teams that lost their initial contests were matched up in four weekend games.

The boys of IHM jumped out to an early lead against Norwood Gold and went on to win, 44-35. Ringing up a dozen points each were IHM’s Markey and Norwood’s Coleman. The Norwood Blue team counted up three three-point field goals for Paddy May (nine points), but the Bears succumbed by a score of 49-16 to Holy Rosary, which got eight points each from Elijah Colson, J.T. Couchara and Colin Pugh.

Also on Saturday, Ava Rossi’s 14 points spearheaded a Norwood 29-19 victory over the OMC girls, who had Ava Egan stamp eight points in the book. The last consolation game had St. Philip and Penn Charter matched up early on Sunday morning. With a little over a minute left in this one, a lay-up in transition by Ashlie Johnson pulled PC even at 23-all, but on a shot by the Quakers on their next possession the ball hung on the rim and then fell away from the basket.

Fouled with 3.6 seconds remaining, the Saints’ Gabby Loughery banked in her first free throw and St. Philip prevailed, 24-23. Abby Swider registered nine points for SPN, while almost all of Charter’s offense came from Johnson, who poured in 21 points.

Now, the girls of Germantown Friends and Springside Chestnut Hill took the court in the championship game. This time the SCH girls with soccer commitments could not attend, including starting point guard McIntyre. Hall filled in very nicely at the point, though, and in this low-scoring affair her three-pointer in the first quarter broke an early 2-2 tie and gave the Blue Devils a lead they never lost. The period ended at 8-2, and after the teams traded baskets in the second round, the Tigers’ Raven stuck a 15-footer for GFS in the closing seconds to set the score at 10-6 for halftime.

After Raven started the third quarter with a lay-up to pull GFS within two points of the leaders, SCH matched that basket with a midrange jumper by Hall. As the period wound down, GFS pulled down a defensive rebound but Hall stripped the ball and sank a lay-up, ushering in the fourth period with a score of 14-8.

With under 90 seconds remaining in the game, the Blue Devils were ahead by seven, 16-9. They were committing some turnovers under GFS defensive pressure, but the Tigers were having trouble garnering points on these extra possessions.

Murphy got to the line to make one of two free throws for GFS, and after SCH rebounded the missed second shot, Raven stole the ball and put in a lay-up, closing up the score to 16-12. One of the Tigers’ last trips up the floor on offense ended when Springside Chestnut Hill tied up the ball and found the possession arrow pointing its way with seven seconds left.

On the inbounds play Germantown stole the ball, but the Tigers’ last shot was well off the mark.

Hall had 11 of the Blue Devils’ points, with three scored by Courtney Oliver and two by Major. Raven’s nine points for GFS were complemented by two for Harvey and one for Murphy.

The boys of GFS and their counterparts from St. Philip Neri defended each other well during a 6-6 opening quarter in their title bout. After that, the Saints began to find small cracks in the Germantown defense.

Three minutes in, the Tigers were just two points back at 10-8, then Gartland deposited his fourth field goal of the game for SPN and teammate Tyler Olszewski bagged a lay-up and free throw.

A made free throw by Hannity capped off a little 6-0 spurt for the Saints, then the teams traded points late in the half for an 18-10 tally at the intermission. The Saints were fouling a little too often, but most of the time the Tigers didn’t profit at the free throw line.

In round three, St. Philip’s inside offense was balanced by a pair of three-pointers by Jake West. Even though the GFS defense shut out Gartland after halftime, the Saints were discovering other avenues of attack. They took a 30-18 lead into the fourth quarter and then added on field goals by Gavin Rocks and Lincoln Sharpe.

Penetrating to the hoop, Palmer-Waldron led a Germantown resurgence, and the Tigers had the gap back down in single digits (34-25) when they called time-out with 2:36 left in the game. The next basket belonged to SPN’s Olszewski, though, and although the Saints shot three-for-nine at the foul line the rest of the way, they didn’t need points as badly as the GFS.

After the Tigers missed all of their last four free throws, a three-point field goal by Ben Goldberg with 19 seconds left brought the final margin down to 11 points, 39-28.

Heading a list of six scorers for the victors were West (10 points) and Gartland (eight), followed by Olszewski (seven), Sharpe (six), Rocks (five) and Hannity (three). With a game-high 11 points for GFS, Muhammad was followed by Palmer-Waldron (six), Goldberg (five), Daniel Mateffy (four) and Staten (two).

This year the torch of Snowball Tournament directors was passed to John and Sharon Donovan and Colleen and Tim Howard, who bravely shouldered the responsibility even after discovering that running the Snowball is the unofficial 13th labor of Hercules.

As usual, the tournament featured an announcer and DJ, a three-point shooting contest during breaks, and Norwood’s highly-regarded concession stand. It is a grass roots effort that for many years has produced one of the highlights of the winter season in Chestnut Hill.