by Tom Utescher

Germantown Academy senior Dana Lotito navigates between Shipley’s Jordyn Turner (left background) and Celeste Golub (right). (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Germantown Academy began to participate in the Pa. Independent School Basketball Championships in 2009, and last week the Patriots extended their perfect record in the event, winning their third straight title on Saturday afternoon at Penn State University’s Abington campus.

There were strong showings for departing seniors Monica Schacker (23 points with five three-pointers), Dana Lotito (12 points, 11 rebounds), and Alexa Gallagher (nine points, 10 rebounds, four steals) as top-seeded GA repulsed upset-minded Shipley, the seventh seed, in a 69-41 final.

“When we left GA today,” Patriots coach Sherri Retif related, “the seniors were talking about how there were just 32 minutes left in their high school careers. The underclassmen respect the seniors so much, and they wanted to enjoy the moment with them, as well.”

GA got nine points from junior guard Jaryn Garner and eight points, 11 rebounds, and five steals from sophomore forward Kiernan McCloskey, the other two starters. McCloskey’s sister Megan, a freshman, contributed four points, and two points apiece from sophomore Natalie Toner and ninth-grader Breezy Cullen rounded it out for the Patriots, who finished with an overall record of 23-5.

GA had beaten Penn Charter in the 2010 title game, but this time around the second-seeded Quakers made an early exit, coming off a first-round bye to succumb to Shipley in Wednesday’s quarterfinal round, 59-55.

At the beginning of December, PC opened its season with a 62-34 win over Shipley, jumping ahead 20-4 and then cruising. However, six-foot junior forward Jordyn Turner did not play for the Gators in that contest, and a very young Shipley team (starting forward Celeste Golub is the only senior) would gain a lot of varsity experience throughout the winter.

In last week’s rematch with PC, Shipley led the whole game, going up 44-34 at the three-quarter mark and staving off a PC rally in the final period. Charter junior shooting guard Brianna Butler led all scorers with 22 points, and Tamesha “Sox” Alexander, the Gators’ freshman point guard, was right behind with 21.

GA played its tourney opener the same afternoon, dispatching Friends Central, the eighth seed, 64-22. Leading a parade of 10 scorers for the Patriots were Lotito, with 26 points, and Gallagher, with 12. FC’s Monaye Merritt, a Temple University recruit, led the Phoenix with 14 points.

Gallagher, who had missed the last three games of the regular season (a win and a loss against Episcopal Academy and a loss to Cardinal O’Hara), was back for the tournament wearing a knee brace pending surgery on a torn medial meniscus. During her absence, the loss to EA had ended a Girls Inter-Ac League win streak dating back to 1999.

“I think the seniors were pretty upset about that, and it motivated us that much more,” Gallagher remarked.

Although the brace stabilized her ailing joint and prevented further damage over the short haul, the DePaul signee said “It hurts pretty bad, but when you get out there the adrenalin kind of takes over and you don’t feel it as much.”

Leaving the tourney field, Friends Central got to watch the semifinal games being played on its home court in Wynnewood. In an all-Main Line match-up, Shipley knocked off third-seeded Notre Dame, rallying from an 18-14 shortfall at halftime to win 49-39.

Alexander once again led the Gators, notching 14 points, while fellow freshman Aja Ellison dumped in a dozen. The Irish were paced by junior Molly Borghese, with 12 points, and senior Colleen Olinger, with nine.

In the other game, the Patriots led 37-31 going into the fourth quarter and spread the score to 58-45 by the final horn, receiving a game-high 20 points from Garner and 13 from Schacker. This portended a competitive final game for the Pats, since early in the season Hill had only gotten past Shipley 46-43 while the Gators were still without Turner.

Shipley fans have reason to be excited about their young ballclub. Turner will be back for another year, and the freshman trio of Alexander at the point, Ellison in the post, and Colleen Walsh at shooting guard have the bases covered at the major offensive positions for some time to come. In the off-season, the ninth-graders all play for Gators coach Sean Costello on a Philadelphia Belles AAU team.

“We wanted to front Ellison in the post,” GA’s Retif said, “and we had Jaryn [Garner] on Alexander because we thought her size [three inches taller] and aggressiveness would be to our advantage.”

In its season opener Shipley (19-8) had fallen behind Penn Charter at the outset, 11-0, and last Saturday there was an early case of déjà vu as GA went seven-for-seven at the foul line and all five starters scored to put the Patriots up 13-0 in three minutes. Alexander got the Gators going with a short pull-up jumper, then a trey from Walsh (who had four in the game) and two midrange shots by Turner tightened the score to 13-9 with more than a minute still to go in the opening quarter.

For a moment it looked like a pitched battle was in the cards, but that impression faded quickly. Starting in the final minute of the first period, Germantown launched a 21-2 offensive that had them up 34-11 with 3:27 to go in the first half. Two treys and a drive by Schacker and a pair of lay-ups by Lotito sounded the trumpet for the Patriots’ charge.

Speaking of the 9-0 Shipley surge in the first quarter that wiped out most of GA’s early gains, Retif said. “We had three or four turnovers in a row and they converted them. We were out of sync, but we started taking better care of the ball – hitting the seams with our passes and attacking the paint. The girls also did a good job of getting to the foul line.”

The Gators trailed 41-15 at halftime, when two starters had three personal fouls and another had two. Their fortunes didn’t improve during an 8-15 third quarter. Shipley made up five points in the final period as GA played five reserves together for a few minutes.

Retif put her seniors back in with three-and-a-half minutes left, then retired them one-by-one to let each of them experience a tribute from the fans. Schacker will continue her basketball career at the University of New Haven (Conn.), while Lotito plans to focus her attention elsewhere at the College of William & Mary.

At game’s end, Shipley’s scorebook showed a dozen points for Walsh, 10 each for Ellison and Turner, five for Alexander, and four for Golub.

The Gators’ Costello commented “GA’s a big, strong, physical, fast team of upperclassmen, and it was good for our girls to see how a team like that plays, and hopefully strive to be like that.

“I talked to our girls about how we got here,” he went on, “beating two good basketball teams that were seeded second and third. I didn’t want them to lose sight of how far they’ve come since the beginning of the season; that improvement is really what you’re looking for as a coach.”

GA’s Retif observed, “We knew they’d make some runs because they have talented players, but we liked our depth, and we were in it for the marathon, not the sprint. The girls who played on JV together all season kept getting better and better, and when they started getting into varsity games they were focused and they played hard. We have six sophomores who will be a big part of our team next year, and also some freshmen who I think will be stepping up for us.”