by Tom Utescher

Penn Charter senior Carmen Williams (with ball) looks for a path to the basket between Notre Dame’s Katie Halligan (left) and Allie Lynch (behind). Photo by Tom UtescherLast winter, the girls’ basketball team at Penn Charter split in its home-away series with the Academy of Notre Dame, and the Quakers and the Irish ended up tied for second place in the final Inter-Ac League standings.

Last Tuesday afternoon, Penn Charter completed a sweep of Notre Dame in the 2019-2020 campaign, advancing to a 9-2 record in the league and a 22-3 mark overall with a 56-45 victory. The only Inter-Ac contest remaining on the Quakers’ schedule is this Tuesday’s rematch with Episcopal Academy, a team PC defeated 59-34 back on January 21.

A week before that, Charter had knocked off Notre Dame in its own gym, 60-30. The Villanova school would make last week’s rematch a much closer contest. Penn Charter climbed out of a 14-14 tie in the second quarter to lead 27-18 at halftime and 44-32 at the three-quarter mark. The Irish would come back within six points of their hosts with more than three minutes remaining in the game, then the Quakers widened the gap to double figures once more.

Senior Carmen Williams scored a game-high 18 points and freshman Kelsey Bess chalked up 16 in the victory, with eight points apiece added by senior Kait Carter and freshman Aleah Snead. Notre Dame (6-4, 16-4) had three players score in double digits; freshman Katie Halligan (14 points), junior Izzy Casale (11) and sophomore Maeve McErlane (10).

The previous Thursday, Penn Charter had lost for a second time this season to Inter-Ac League leader Germantown Academy. Two days later at Baldwin School, the Quakers actually trailed the fifth-place Bears at halftime (22-21) before rolling to a 66-45 win.

With the GA loss, PC head coach Joe Maguire pointed out, “We had one of our main goals for the season taken away from us, so we were a little flat over at Baldwin. It took us until the second half to play like ourselves.”

Going into the Notre Dame game, PC was still striving for other important objectives.

“We wanted to be in second place in the league by ourselves, and we wanted to be the second seed for the PAISAA tournament,” he said. “We also still had a change to set a new single-season record for wins.”

Williams started off Tuesday’s proceedings with a three-point field goal from the top of the key, and at the end of the first quarter she grabbed the rebound of a missed Notre Dame free throw and went down the court for a lay-up. That took the Quakers into the second period with a 10-8 edge, and after Halligan tied the score for Notre Dame, the teams traded points up to 14-14. Halligan, a freshman forward, scored all of the points for the Irish during this stretch.

Before the game Maguire had reminded his team that Notre Dame also had something to play for, looking to grab a share of second place in the league while avenging its earlier loss to the Quakers.

Bella Toomey, a freshman forward, takes a shot for the Quakers during the Notre Dame game. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

“We got into some foul trouble early in the game and that slowed us down a little,” he observed later. “We got over that and we began to match their intensity. We were also smarter about working to get the shots we wanted.”

The Quakers went ahead for good when junior Kaitlyn Hnatkowski converted off an offensive rebound, then the scoreboard stalled at 16-14 as PC got into the foul bonus but couldn’t add any more points on two trips to the free throw line. Next, Snead hit a short jumper that prompted the Irish to call a time-out, trailing 18-14 with 4:11 remaining in the first half.

Notre Dame would deposit only one field goal during the rest of the second quarter, though. Out of the time-out, Charter’s Williams scored off of a steal and Carter nailed both shots on a one-and-one. The Irish got a lay-up in transition from sophomore Julia Dever, but the Quakers came right back with a 15-foot jumper from the right side by Williams and a “three” from the keytop by Bess.

The count was 27-16, but the visitors had the gap back under 10 points for halftime, with McErlane culling two points from a one-and-one in the last 30 seconds.

Notre Dame’s situation worsened as Penn Charter began the second half with an 8-2 run that spread the score to 35-20. Bess started it with a three-pointer and a shorter jumper, and Williams added a trey a little later.

Casale, a small quick guard, slipped inside to score four lay-ups for the Irish later on. This stabilized Notre Dame’s position, but the Quakers still were up by a dozen for the start of the fourth frame, 44-32.

In the first half of the fourth period, scores from the paint by McErlane and Halligan generated some offense for the Irish, and going the other way the visitors slowed PC down a bit with a press. A successful drive down the lane by AND senior Allie Lynch (who’ll go on to the University of Scranton) made it a six-point game (48-42) with 3:22 left on the clock.

Bess drove from the left side to score for the hosts, then after Williams committed an offensive foul (PC’s sixth), she quickly redeemed herself by snaring the rebound of a Notre Dame miss from the floor. From near the left corner Carter floated a “three” that widened the gap to 11 points with 1:45 on the ticker.

Each team added a free throw and PC’s Snead and Notre Dame’s McErlane exchanged lay-ups and the clock cut into the final minute with the score 56-45. That figure would hold up as the final as the Irish missed shots from the floor and the Quakers whiffed on three free throws.