by Tom Utescher

When it comes to the most heated of Catholic Academies rivalries, you can toss out the records and rankings, and settle in for a few hours of knock-down, drag-out drama.

That’s just what occurred last Thursday evening when the only two teams still without a loss in the AACA met at Mount St. Joseph Academy. Remaining unblemished at 13-0, the host Magic dissolved a 30-30 tie early in the fourth quarter to go ahead of Villa Maria for good, but the Hurricanes stayed close behind until the final buzzer signaled a 43-39 Mount victory and the home fans exhaled in unison.

Completing the first round of league contests, the Magic improved to 7-0 in the AACA, while Villa slipped to 5-1 in the league and 8-3 overall. MSJ senior guard Mary Jo Horgan collected seven rebounds and four steals and led all scorers with 18 points, one more than her opposite number on the Villa team, Brooke Angelos.

A week earlier in Villa’s overtime win against Nazareth Academy (a club the Mount beat 40-32 last Tuesday), the Hurricanes lost one of their starting players when Maddie McTigue was bopped in the schnoz and suffered a broken nose. Last Thursday, the ‘Canes pretty much made up for that absence by curtailing the role of 6’1” Mount senior Steph Smith, who was hit with three first-half fouls and eventually was ejected in the fourth quarter with four points and four rebounds on the stat sheet.

A smaller forward for the Magic, junior Cailin Schmeer, used her leaping ability to help out under the boards with a team-high eight rebounds. She scored all of her eight points in the second half, netting the last two from the free throw line with 8.2 seconds to go. The winners’ total also included six points by junior Bridget Higgins, four from sophomore Kelsey Jones, and three from junior Maddie Kohler.
For Villa, Angelos’ effort was supported by guards Kellie O’Rourke (nine points) and Maria Ferrari (seven), and forward Kristin Walheim (six).

While the Mount players didn’t perform any special pre-game rituals when their classes ended, Horgan reported “Everyone was pumped up the whole day. When we play Villa in any sport it’s a good game.”

Mount St. Joe forward Steph Smith (left) muscles up a shot against Villa Maria’s star guard, Brooke Angelos. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

The senior last encountered a Villa squad back on October 22, when she helped the Magic defeat the Hurricanes’ field hockey team for the league championship.

After a lay-up and free throw by Villa’s Ferrari and a three-pointer by Horgan, the 3-3 tie held up for a few minutes as the overeager teams combined for seven straight turnovers (three for MSJ). Smith moved the Magic ahead, making two of three free throws and depositing a lay-up. Later, lay-ups by Horgan and Higgins and a three-point basket by Kohler powered the hosts to a 14-7 advantage at the end of the opening quarter.

Villa’s Angelos started the second round by hitting two foul shots, then she made two more on a one-and-one gambit, since the Magic had already put their guests into the bonus. The VMA star ended the frame with a three-pointer and a lay-up in the last 49 seconds, sending the teams to the locker room knotted up at 20-20.

It was déjà vu for the capacity crowd in the third quarter, as the Mount went up by five (30-25) with offense from Horgan, Schmeer and Higgins, only to have Angelos nail a “three” and a lay-up back-to-back, this time tying the game at 30-all. The Mount edged ahead 34-33, but Smith picked up her fourth personal with a minute to go in round three. Schmeer stuck a baseline jumper with five seconds remaining, sending the hosts into the fourth quarter with a 36-33 lead.

Horgan began the final frame with a trey from the left wing, but Angelos came right back with a successful drive. Vying for a rebound, MSJ’s Smith was whistled down for her fifth foul with 4:14 on the clock.

“There’s a big difference when Steph isn’t in the game,” Horgan said, “but in the end we came through and I think we showed some character. We stopped trying for the steal every time, so we cut down on fouls.”

In the following two minutes, a lay-up by VMA’s Ferrari spun out of the cylinder, while at the other end the Mounties failed to cash in on a pair of one-and-one’s. Two field goals from the paint by the visitors’ O’Rourke were sandwiched around a Horgan lay-up, making it 41-39 with 50 seconds left in the game.

With 21 seconds to go, Mount St. Joe again came up empty on a one-and-one, but Schmeer rebounded the miss and when the Magic came down the court Villa deflected an MSJ pass out over the baseline. Horgan rose up like a wide receiver between two defensive backs to snare the inbounds pass out near midcourt, and soon after that Schmeer’s two free throws gave the Magic a four-point lead. Angelos’ final heave at the hoop from the three-point loop fell short, and the game ended at 43-39.

“A lot of times in [close] games like this it comes down to being patient on offense,” Horgan commented. “We have good plays, and when we settle down and run the offense right, it’s hard for people to guard us.”