Seen here bringing the ball across halfcourt at Notre Dame, Penn Charter eighth-grader Kelsey Bess would make a game-winning shot at the buzzer. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

While the girls of Germantown Academy remained undefeated atop the Inter-Ac League basketball standings last week at 9-0, two teams with hopes of finishing no lower than second place met at the Academy of Notre Dame last Friday afternoon. Each team entered the showdown with a 6-2 record in the league; overall, Notre Dame was 12-5 and visiting Penn Charter was 19-5.

Exactly three weeks earlier, the visiting AND Irish had beaten the Quakers by 16 points. Last week’s rematch in Villanova was much closer, but with less than half-a-minute to go it looked like the Irish might eke out a one-point win over PC.

On the Quakers’ final possession, junior guard Carmen Williams ran into traffic and passed the ball to eighth-grader Kelsey Bess, who floated a shot that dropped through the rim at the buzzer, giving Penn Charter a 46-45 victory. Bess and Williams both scored in double figures, with 11 and 12 points, respectively, and so did junior Kait Carter, with her team-high 13 point effort.

“It’s been a tough week, but now we’re 20-5 for the season and 7-2 in the league,” said fourth-year PC head coach Joe Maguire. “It was one of our goals to win 20 games.”

The archives compiled by Penn Charter alum and former Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter Ted Silary reveal that this year’s crop of Quakers is the fifth PC girls’ basketball team to reach 20 wins; one more will set a new school record.

This winter, Notre Dame has already lost twice to Germantown Academy, and both the Irish and Quakers had three games left following Friday’s clash. Both teams will play last-place Agnes Irwin and fourth-place Episcopal Academy, then Notre Dame will finish up with Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and Charter will play GA in its Inter-Ac finale.

Last Wednesday, in their first encounter of the season with the GA Patriots, the Quakers had trouble getting out of the gate. They found themselves down 27-11 after one quarter, and lost 69-46.

“We talked about regrouping as a team,” Maguire said, “about everyone playing their roles and the team playing together. You need each other in these tougher games.”

In a 59-43 loss to Notre Dame on their home court on Jan. 11, the Quakers had given up a combined total of 44 points to the two AND seniors bound for Division I college programs, point guard Mandy McGurk (Penn) and shooting guard Maggie Pina (Boston University).

Heading into last week’s rematch, Maguire told his players, “If McGurk and Pina beat us, that’s on you guys; if the other girls beat us, that’s on me.”

While McGurk would ring up a game-high 17 points, Pina was held to four. However, other Irish players would contribute to make sure this contest went right down to the wire.

Notre Dame head coach Lauren Thomer is in her first season with the team, but she needed no introduction to Penn Charter’s Joe Maguire.

“I’ve known Lauren since we were about four years old,” said the PC skipper, explaining that they were in the same grade school class at St. Matthew’s School on Cottman Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia. He went on to Father Judge High School, she to Archbishop Ryan.

Notre Dame diligently kept track of the whereabouts of PC junior Carmen Williams (right). Here, she’s being watched by Emma Kichula (left) and Maggie Pina. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Once the game got underway, the better part of two minutes went by before either team scored, then a three-pointer by Notre Dame senior Emma Kichula was answered by a lay-up from Charter junior Hayley Hunt. Near the end of the first quarter, the Irish were ahead by one point once more, then McGurk drove for a lay-up with four seconds left, putting the hosts up 12-9.

By halftime, little had changed, with the hosts now leading by four points, 20-16. At the beginning, PC had moved ahead as Bess knocked down a three-pointer from the left side and Williams scored in transition off of a pass from Carter. The Quakers were also getting the Irish in foul trouble, reaching the bonus a little over two minutes into the second quarter and seeing Notre Dame’s Kichula having to sit a spell with two personals.

Charter didn’t fully capitalize, coming up empty on three one-and-one’s as the home team went back in front with a 6-0 spurt. Near the end, PC was only down by two, but the last points of the half came on a baseline drive by Notre Dame’s Allie Lynch.

As in the second quarter, the Quakers got off to a strong start in round three, gaining a 23-20 lead on a lay-up by Williams, two free throws by Carter and a three-pointer by guard Emma Maley, the lone senior playing for Penn Charter. Notre Dame revived with an “and-one” play completed by McGurk, and midway through the period the count was 25-all.

A little later, the scoreboard balanced at 27 and 29 points apiece, then once more the Irish were able to pick up points at the end of a quarter. McGurk scored on a drive, and then Lynch was left wide open to drain a “three” from the top of the key, making it 34-29.

While the Quakers were not ahead at the three-quarter mark, as they had hoped to be, they still were within easy striking distance.

“We just need to win this quarter,” Maguire told his charges as they went back out on the court for the final eight minutes.

Early on, a lay-up and free throw for the Irish were countered by a PC trey lobbed by Carter from along the left baseline. Next, Notre Dame’s seventh and eighth team fouls brought up successful one-and-one’s for Carter and Williams. In between the two sets of free throws, Carter had scored a lay-up off a pass from Bess, so with five minutes remaining in the game the Quakers owned a 38-37 lead.

A Charter turnover led to a fast break lay-up for AND’s McGurk, then the visitors coughed the ball up again and McGurk found Riley Gillin on a cut to the basket to make it 41-38. Bess scored from the paint for PC, but the hosts still held a one-point edge when a time-out was called with 2:36 left.

The lead swayed back and forth as Williams scored off an inbounds play for the Quakers, McGurk made a runner for the home team and Williams came back with a short jumper taken in transition. Penn Charter entered the final minute of play ahead 44-43, but with the clock down to 33 seconds Notre Dame’s Gillin stuck a 15-foot baseline jumper from the left of the basket.

At the other end a three-point shot from the top of the key didn’t drop for PC, and Notre Dame rebounded the miss and called a 30-second time-out with 16.6 seconds remaining. The Irish inbounded the ball from near the half court line on the left, and when PC fouled (still not putting AND in the bonus), Notre Dame set up from the same spot on the sideline.

Williams jumped the inbounds pass to McGurk and forced the Notre Dame senior into a backcourt violation. The visitors immediately called a time-out of their own with a dozen seconds to go, still down 45-44.

Probing around briefly as the clock ticked down, PC’s Williams seemed to consider driving from the top of the key, but found defenders in her path. Noticing Bess cutting down outside of the right elbow, the junior dished the ball to the eighth-grader, who hoisted the ball up toward the basket from the right side of the lane. It dropped through the hoop as the buzzer sounded, and the celebration began for the Quakers.

The shot by Bess may have appeared a little unorthodox to onlookers, but Maguire said, “She shoots that floater all the time in practice.”

For the final sequence, he related, “I knew the girls I wanted up top to make decisions according to what was there. Carmen made a great play, and I told her, ‘You could’ve been selfish and tried to force a shot yourself, but instead you trusted your teammate and she came through for you.’”

Supplementing the output of the three double-digit PC scorers were Hunt, with four points, and Maley and junior India Barnes, each with one three-point field goal. Besides McGurk and Pina, the players who scored for the Irish were Lynch and Maeve McErlane, each with seven points, Gillin, with six, Kichula, with three, and Caitlyn Mullen, with one.