by Tom Utescher
Mount St. Joseph’s basketball closed out the decade last Monday morning in a road game at the Academy of Notre Dame. Missing their high scorer, junior Grace Niekelski, the Mount Magic were tied with the host Irish, 31-31, after three periods, but Notre Dame pulled away during a 16-4 fourth quarter to win, 47-35.
Paced by 11 points from forward Kelly Rothenberg and eight from point guard Lauren Vesey, the Mount went home with an overall record of 6-2. Both of these Magic seniors now have their college plans in place; Vesey will attend the University of Notre Dame and Rothenberg will run track at Brown University.
The Academy of Notre Dame improved to 7-2 to see out the old year, receiving a game-high 15 points from senior Allie Lynch and 14 from sophomore Julia Dever, both guards.
Earlier in the month, the Mount and Notre Dame had faced a common opponent back-to-back. On December 19 the Mount defeated Catholic Academies League rival Villa Maria, 69-59, and two days later the Hurricanes bounced back to record a 59-37 victory over Notre Dame (a member of the Inter-Ac League). Villa’s Columbia-bound senior, Paige Lauder, did not play in either contest.
For last Monday’s game, the Mount would also be missing a key player. Niekelski, who had posted a game-high 24 points in the Magic’s win over Villa, was sitting at the end of the bench in street clothes. She and several other MSJ students (not basketball players) suffered food poisoning after eating at a chain restaurant.
Nevertheless, the rest of the Mounties held their own through much of the game. Over the first two minutes, an opening basket by the Irish was quickly answered by Mount senior Taylor Sistrunk with a lay-up in transition. Freshman Georgia Pickett hit a lay-up and two free throws, Vesey had a field goal, and Rothenberg deposited a three-pointer to give the visitors an 11-8 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
In the second period AND’s Lynch would score seven points, including a “three” from the left corner that would level the score at 15-15 just before the middle of the quarter. The Irish went on to a 23-18 halftime lead, as Lynch (who will continue her career at the University of Scranton) led all scorers with 11 points.
Two baskets apiece from Vesey and senior classmate Audrey Bryce lifted the Magic into a 26-all tie with the Irish in the third period, forcing a Notre Dame time-out with 4:03 remaining in the quarter.
The host team came back out to score five straight points, but the Magic recouped them later on. Pickett made the second of two free throws and Rothenberg scored from the paint. In the final minute, Vesey blocked an Irish shot on defense and then drew a shooting foul from AND’s Lynch at the other end of the floor. With 12 ticks left she put in both free throws to send the game into the fourth round at 31-31.
After Izzy Casale scored in transition for Notre Dame to launch the last quarter, Mount St. Joe broke a press applied by the Irish but missed a routine lay-up. Later on, the Irish defense was more successful in creating MSJ turnovers, while the Magic didn’t have much luck when they were able to get off a shot.
In a span of just over five minutes, the Mount managed only a lay-up by Bryce during a 10-2 run for the home team. The Magic had committed just three team fouls up to this point, and as the clock began to tick down close to two minutes, the Mount had to try and get the Irish into the bonus to keep them from simply draining the time away.
The visitors needed to be selective in who drew these whistles, though, since Bryce and Pickett were already in foul trouble. The Irish whiffed on their first one-and-one with 1:28 to go, while a few seconds later Rothenberg made two free throws for the Magic, who were also in the bonus.
That brought the Mount back within six, at 41-35, but those would be the last points the visitors would score. Notre Dame’s Lynch and Maeve McErlane each extracted both points out of a one-and-one, then the Irish got into the double bonus and two “makes” by Dever put the 47-35 final on the board.
Bryce finished with six points for Mount St. Joseph, with Sistrunk and Pickett adding five apeice. For Notre Dame, Lynch and Dever were backed up by seven points by McErlane, four apiece from Casale and Katie Halligan, and two from Grace Hannah.