by Tom Utescher

Kiernan McCloskey of Germantown Academy (right) drives on Penn Charter’s Danielle Sienko in last week’s Inter-Ac League match-up. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Charles Dickens began “A Christmas Carol” by making sure the reader understood, without a doubt, that Scrooge’s former business partner Jacob Marley was “as dead as a door-nail.”

Four our purposes here, the reader must be fully aware that Germantown Academy’s standout senior guard, Alexa Gallagher, did not play for a single second in either of the Patriots’ two games against Episcopal Academy last week.

In the first one, the Pats prevailed 49-38, to clinch their 13th straight Girls Inter-Ac League championship, but the Churchwomen won the second clash on Friday, 63-60. It was one day short of the anniversary of GA’s last league loss, a 1999 setback at the Academy of Notre Dame that forced the Patriots to share the Inter-Ac crown with both the Irish and Shipley School.

Throughout this season, the feeling was that Penn Charter was the team with the best chance of ending GA’s streak of Girls Inter-Ac victories. The Patriots won a January meeting between the teams, 65-46, and in last Tuesday’s rematch, GA overcame a one-point deficit at the three-quarter mark to pull out a 54-46 victory over the visiting Quakers, who would finish as the league runner-up.

In a practice before that game, Gallagher felt some pain in her right knee, where she’d suffered an ACL tear in July of 2008. She played against Penn Charter, matching PC senior Aleesha Powell’s 17 points in the contest. However, the troubled knee was swollen once more, and although a physical exam did not point toward another ACL injury, Gallagher was taken off active duty by Germantown coach Sherri Retif until she’d had an MRI scan.

In the Penn Charter game, seven points from Gallagher and six from sophomore Kiernan McCloskey propelled the Patriots to a 20-7 advantage with 6:40 remaining in the first half.

A short baseline jumper from senior Kendall Stokes and back-to-back drives by junior Brianna Butler revived the visitors, who avoided an early rout but still trailed 26-18 at the interlude. Powell began the third round with a score off a steal, and a few minutes later a baseline drive by Stokes made it a four-point affair at 30-26.

After that the score slowly rolled to 33-30, then with 47 seconds left in the period Butler stole the ball from the Patriots and broke away to score, making it 33-32. Another PC steal, by Stokes, allowed the Quakers to hold the ball for the last shot of the quarter. Powell drove in from the right side and her lay-up rolled in at the buzzer, providing Charter with a 34-33 lead going into the final frame.

Over the next three minutes, a score off a steal by McCloskey, along with two free throws by Gallagher and one by senior Dana Lotito, put Germantown back in the lead for good, 38-34. Charter’s junior center, Dianna Thomas-Palmer, fouled out on a charging call with 2:41 left to play, but as the two-minute mark approached it was still a four-point game, 40-36. Over the next minute or so, the score rose to 44-38 exclusively on free throws.

At the end of this stretch, GA’s McCloskey grabbed the rebound of a teammate’s missed foul shot and scored while being fouled herself. She made the free throw to give GA a 47-38 lead with 62 seconds left, but PC’s Powell answered with a trey from the left wing. After junior Jaryn Garner put in a free throw for the Patriots, Powell made three from the line when she was fouled on another three-point attempt.

It was now 48-44 with 41 seconds left. Charter had to start fouling to keep GA from swallowing seconds off the clock. Up to this juncture, GA had missed seven of 16 foul shots in the fourth quarter, including the front end of a one-and-one.

Now in the foul double-bonus, the Pats did better the rest of the way, going six-for eight on the line as Gallagher made all four of her attempts and Garner made both of hers. Before the GA junior stepped to the line, the Quakers’ Butler drove the lane with eight seconds left for a 52-46 tally, but Garner had the last word with 1.8 ticks to go.

“It was a game that could’ve turned out differently if just a few little things had gone our way on certain plays,” commented Penn Charter coach Diana Caramanico. “We definitely struggled with our outside shooting. We played well enough to win; I don’t know if we shot well enough to win.”

In addition to Gallagher’s point production, GA received 14 from Garner, nine from McCloskey, eight and four points from seniors Monica Schacker and Lotito, and two from sophomore Angela Upright. Backing up PC’s Powell were a dozen points from Butler, nine from Thomas-Palmer, six from Stokes, and two from junior Danielle Sienko.

With Gallagher out of action from this point on, Wednesday brought the first of GA’s back-back games with Episcopal. The Patriots went up 14-3 in the first quarter and ended up winning by an 11-point margin, as well.

Lotito’s 16 points, along with nine from McCloskey and seven from Schacker, fueled the victory while EA received 20 points from 6’2” center Megan Quinn and 10 from guard Meghan Hubley, who are both sophomores.

The following afternoon, Penn Charter was seeking its first ever home/away sweep against the Academy of Notre Dame after splitting with the Irish last winter and then beating them in the Pa. Independent Schools tournament.

In its season opener back in December, Charter jumped ahead of Notre Dame by 16 points during the first quarter and won by 18, but last week the Irish were much tougher at the outset. Down 25-23 at halftime, the Quakers once again made a major move in the third quarter (as at GA and also at Springside the week before), and this time it paid off with a convincing victory.

After that 20-5 third frame for PC, the teams matched points in the fourth round and the Quakers won 58-45, with Butler scoring 18 points and Thomas-Palmer 14. On defense, the Irish devoted a lot of attention to PC’s Powell, but while she scored five points in the game, Sienko found herself uncovered on many occasions and stepped up to register 16 points for the visitors. Megan McGurk (14 points) and Molly Borghese (nine) paced Notre Dame.

In Friday’s Inter-Ac contests, the Quakers squashed last-place Baldwin, 44-11, to finish as the league runner-up with a record of 10-2, while on the Main Line, Notre Dame knocked off Agnes Irwin to cement its Inter-Ac record at 7-5. Even though the Irish beat Episcopal twice head-to-head, the Churchwomen were able to tie Notre Dame for third place thanks to their win over GA in another Friday contest.

As in the first EA-GA meeting two days earlier, Episcopal’s Quinn was the high scorer, this time with 23 points, while sophomore classmate Kristen Hinckley added an even dozen. This time the Churchwomen dominated the opening period, 18-9, and they continued to gain ground in each of the next two periods, taking a 47-32 advantage into the final eight minutes.

The Patriots fought back fiercely in the fourth quarter but came up three points short in the end. The sidelined Gallagher ducked under the bleachers to change into her uniform late in the game, but Coach Retif held firm in her decision not to let the senior play until her she was cleared to perform following a thorough evaluation of her knee.

“Not having Alexa creates a big gap,” admitted the Patriots’ mentor. “It’s not just the points, rebounds, and steals; it’s the intangibles – the communication, the leadership. It gave our other players a chance to see what additional things they need to do when Alexa isn’t able to play.”

Schacker scored 20 points and McCloskey and Garner had 13 apiece for the Patriots, who fell to Cardinal O’Hara a day later, 63-56. It was not the way the Patriots had wanted the regular season to end, but at least their string of Inter-Ac championships remained intact.