Mount junior Lauren Vesey (with ball) tries to squeeze off a shot between Nazareth’s Steph Marino (left) and Katie Harmon. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Given the overall results for the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies basketball teams over the first month of the season, it wasn’t surprising that the Mount St. Joseph Magic defeated Merion Mercy, Villa Joseph Marie and Sacred Heart and lost to league leaders Villa Maria and St. Basil.

When the Mounties headed off to Nazareth Academy last Tuesday evening, the Magic and the Pandas looked to be pretty evenly matched on paper. You could even say Mount St. Joe might have a bit of an edge, having defeated Merion much more decisively than Nazareth.

In reality, things turned out differently. More surprising than the Magic falling behind 12-6 in the first quarter was the fact that they never recovered. The Pandas proceeded to a 27-12 halftime lead and ultimately to a 49-22 victory, leveling their league record at 3-3 and improving to 7-5 against all opponents.

Mount St. Joseph, which received 12 points from sophomore Grace Niekelski, slipped to 3-3, 5-6 with Gwynedd Mercy still to play in the first round of league games on the schedule (Gwynedd had an agent up at Nazareth on Tuesday, filming the game with an iPad).

Junior point guard Lauren Vesey scored four points against the Pandas, while senior Maggie Zipfel and juniors Audrey Bryce and Grace Morrow each added two points.

For most of the first quarter the teams were neck-and-neck, with the visitors getting baseline jumpers from Morrow and Niekelski and a running lay-up from Vesey to hang just one points behind the hosts, at 6-7. After that, Nazareth senior forward Maddie Dykan hit a baseline shot to finish the period with seven points and junior guard Maria D’Aulerio netted a three-pointer with five seconds left to give the Pandas a 12-6 lead.

Taylor Sistrunk (right), an MSJ junior, guards Nazareth’s Maddie Dykan. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

In addition to Dykan working mostly inside and D’Aulerio shooting from the perimeter, senior Emily Keehfuss scored inside and out and the Pandas had a tall athletic freshman starting at guard, Katie Harmon.

The second period opened with a free throw by Harmon, then a three-pointer from the right wing by Niekelski got the Mount back within four points, at 13-9. The rest of the quarter belonged to the Pandas, whose 14-3 run to finish the half was interrupted by a pair of MSJ time-outs that were to no avail.

The Mount needed to come out firing for the second half, but instead the third quarter began with buckets by the Pandas’ Harmon and Dykan. When Dykan made one of two free throws during the second minute, the home team was ahead by 20 points, 32-12.

Later on, four-for-four foulshooting by D’Aulerio helped Nazareth take a 23-point margin into the final round. With each team playing its subs near the end, Nazareth outpointed the Mount during the fourth quarter, 5-1. In the final minutes, Dame Fortune turned her back completely on the Magic, who saw several lay-ups come to naught when the ball lingered on the rim and then seemed to deliberately avoid the cylinder.

Nazareth got a game-high 23 points from Dykan, 10 from D’Aulerio, eight from Keehfuss and five from Harmon.