Mount basketball edged by Villa Maria, 46-45

by Tom Utescher
Posted 12/21/21

Although spectators were still wearing masks as a COVID-19 precaution, last Thursday's bout of basketball at Mount St. Joseph Academy looked very much like a classic confrontation between the host Magic and the Hurricanes of Villa Maria Academy.

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Mount basketball edged by Villa Maria, 46-45


Although spectators were still wearing masks as a COVID-19 precaution, last Thursday's bout of basketball at Mount St. Joseph Academy looked very much like a classic confrontation between the host Magic and the Hurricanes of Villa Maria Academy.

December 16, the largest gap between the teams all evening came in the form of an eight-point Villa advantage in the middle of the fourth quarter. The Magic rallied and edged ahead, 45-44, with 40 seconds left. The Hurricanes recaptured the lead with 10 seconds to go and when the Mount's final shot missed, the visitors departed with a 46-45 victory and a 2-1 record.

While the tenure of Mount head coach Matt Feeney is measured in years (it's his third) while Villa skipper Kathy McCartney's is gauged in decades, the Magic mentor is well aware of the long history of fierce competition between the schools.

It's never easy for either team," he said. "It's a great rivalry."

Mount St. Joe guard Lauren Hoffman scored 15 points to share the game high with fellow junior Clare Cronley, a Villa forward. Two other juniors scored in double digits for the Magic, forward Georgia Pickett and guard Kiersten Pumilia.

The Magic came into the game with a 3-0 record. They had beaten Lower Dauphin High School and Twin Valley in a tip-off tournament before opening their Athletic Association of Catholic Academies campaign with a 51-21 win at Sacred Heart Academy. Thursday's contest was the first AACA outing for Villa; the 'Canes had beaten Henderson High School and had lost to Bishop Shanahan in a tip-off tournament.

Coronavirus protocols deprived the Mount Magic of a starter and their sixth man, beginning with last Tuesday's Sacred Heart game. Villa was still feeling the effects of fall-season injuries; its group of four sidelined players included two probable starters.

As a consequence, Feeney noted, "We didn't quite have the legs to run at them. They were missing people too, so, no excuses."

Hoffman opened the game's scoring with a three-pointer from the right wing, and she scored twice on transition drives later on in the first period. Two buckets from the paint by Pickett and a baseline jumper by sophomore forward Emily Birmingham contributed to a 13-8 Magic lead at the end of the quarter. Cronley had made a good start for the visitors, netting a three-point shot and scoring another three on a lay-up and free throw.

The Hurricanes put up the first five points of the second round to pull even at 13-13. The teams went neck-and-neck through the rest of the quarter, then right at the end a runner from the lane by Pumilia afforded the Mounties a 24-22 lead at halftime.

Looking back on when the game started to get away from his team a little bit, Feeney observed, "I think the third quarter's what really hurt us. We were not as aggressive as we needed to be offensively, and we were probably a bit tired. We went through a stretch without scoring, and they did a really nice job."

The third stanza began well enough for the hosts, with Pickett, Hoffman, and Pumilia adding more points after freshman Addy Smith hit a lay-up for the first MSJ basket of the second half. Midway through the quarter, the Magic led 30-26, but they were outscored over the next four minutes, 11-4.

At one stage Villa made a 7-0 run consisting of a lay-up by junior Olivia Broadhurst, a trey from the left corner by Cronley, and a score off a steal by junior Ava Irvine. Cronley's 5'11" stature made it difficult to obstruct her looks at the basket from the perimeter, while her classmate Elaina Guerzon, a small, quick guard, already had 10 points in the book.

After the Magic missed a couple of free throws to start the fourth frame, they gave up another trey to Cronley. A Mount turnover was followed by a driving lay-up by Villa junior Ella Iacone, and with 3:55 left in the contest the 'Canes called time-out, holding a 42-34 advantage.

It was actually the Mount that seemed to perk up after the Villa time-out, particularly Hoffman. She scored in transition and then made a successful drive. Next, she fed Pickett for a lay-up that closed the score up to 42-40 with under two-and-a-half minutes left.

Villa's Iacone found the basket on a give-and-go, then Hoffman answered for the Mount to trim the gap back to two points. The Magic got the ball right back when Villa was called for traveling as the clock clicked into the final minute of play.

After a Mount miss, a Villa rebounder was grabbing onto the ball when Hoffman swooped in and stole it. As she was falling, Hoffman made a sort of scoop pass to Pumilia. Pumulia, also off balance and receiving contact from a Hurricane defender, flung the ball toward the basket and it went in. She was awarded a free throw, as well, and she converted it with 40.2 seconds remaining to nudge the Mount ahead, 45-44.

The Mounties got a five-second call on Villa up against the sideline, but they could not reinforce their lead. When Villa attacked the left baseline and missed a shot, the Mount came down with the rebound but then walked with the ball.

Continuing to pass the ball well around the paint, Villa got it to Guerzon cutting in from the left, and her lay-up with nine-and-a-half seconds left put the 46-45 final score on the board. After a time out, Mount St. Joe brought the ball up the floor and got off a shot from near the foul line, but it didn't go down.

"In the fourth quarter we turned things around and made up eight points," Feeney said. "We took the lead, then we made a mistake on the defensive end and - credit to them - they made us pay for it."

Mount St. Joseph Academy, Villa Maria Academy