by Tom Utescher

Mount senior Mary Jo Horgan, who led the Mount with 21 points in the AACA championship game, goes up for a shot against Villa Maria’s Kristen Walheim. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

That’s not “smears” in the headline; last Tuesday’s Catholic Academies championship game was way to close for that word to apply. Rather, it’s “Schmeers,” as in Cailin Schmeer, the junior small forward whose 15-foot buzzer-beater lifted Mount St. Joseph Academy to a 47-45 victory over Villa Maria and the Magic’s first AACA title since 2008.

The contest was close the whole night, but Villa was up five early in the fourth quarter and clung to the lead as the final minute approached. Two free throws by Mount senior forward Steph Smith leveled the count at 45-all with 64 seconds left.

That score was still on the board when the Mount executed an inbounds play from its offensive baseline with 1.8 seconds to go. The pass went straight out to Schmeer at the foul line and she swished the shot, eliciting from the boisterous MSJ crowd a roar that was somewhere past deafening.

“It was such a great atmosphere to play in,” exclaimed Schmeer, “a transfer student experiencing her first AACA tournament. “It was so loud you couldn’t hear the plays being called. We had so much support from our student body. All day long in school people were cheering us on.

“It was great get revenge because Villa beat us in overtime at their place last week,” she went on. “We felt it was our time, because we hadn’t won the league championship since our seniors were freshmen.”

In that year, 2008, the Magic and the Hurricanes played each other five times, ending up in the PIAA Class AAA state semifinals. There, Mount St. Joe prevailed, and went on to win the state championship a game later. The archrivals will not meet again this year; the Mount has moved up to Class AAAA and will not see any of its AACA peers in the district or state playoffs.

Tuesday’s win gave the Magic an overall record of 21-3, while Villa Maria was 18-6. In the regular season, the Mount took a January 13 home game against the Hurricanes, 43-39, but in the February 8 rematch at Villa the ‘Canes won 50-43 in overtime.

Mount St. Joe was the number one seed for the four-team AACA tournament, compiling a regular-season record of 12-2 while Villa and Nazareth Academy each finished 11-3. The Magic advanced out of the semifinal round with a 46-24 triumph over number four St. Basil on Saturday, February 12, while Villa beat Nazareth in the other semifinal, 44-37.

Brooke Angelos, Villa Maria’s star senior guard, had run rampant in the win over the Mount the week before, ringing up more than half her team’s total with 27 points. She scored 11 points in Tuesday’s title game.

“I thought our whole team just played more aggressively on defense in the championship game,” remarked Mount coach John Miller. “We had Bridget [Higgins, junior guard] pick up Angelos in the backcourt whenever she could, to make her work the whole game. When she crossed half-court our game-plan was to contain her and not let her go to the basket, and once she gave the ball up, then we worked hard to deny her the ball back. Bridget did a terrific job, but it also was a real team effort.”

Following a masterful rendition of the National Anthem by MSJ junior Maddie Kohler, a starting guard, the Magic took a 4-0 lead on free throws by Schmeer and a put-back by senior guard Mary Jo Horgan. Villa quickly tied it up on a pair of drives by sophomore Lisa Mirarchi, who would score a team-high 16 points for the Hurricanes.

Villa’s Kelly Anthony scored all of her four points later in the first quarter, which ended with a field goal and foul shot by Maddie McTigue (seven points total) that nudged the ‘Canes ahead, 13-12. The two clubs romped through round two, with the Mount edging Villa, 16-15, to fashion a halftime tie at 28-all. Neither school led by more than two points in the period, and the score was tied five times.

“It might have appeared at times to be a track meet,” MSJ’s Miller commented, “but I just think in that second quarter both teams had a difficult time stopping their opponent from scoring. It may sound funny, but Villa actually runs better after a made basket [by the other team] than a missed basket. Every time we scored they were getting the ball out of the net and running down the floor. It didn’t surprise us, because Villa runs better than anyone in our league.”

There were still some transition buckets on both sides in the third round, but both defenses became more assertive and a 6-6 draw sent the game into the fourth quarter with the teams still even, now at 34-34.

After Villa went ahead by four, a Horgan lay-up gave the Magic their first points of the final period. Mount freshman guard Alex Louin came up with a block on defense, but on Villa’s next possession Kellie O’Rourke dropped a “three” from the right wing, making it 41-36 with under six minutes to go.

Over the next two minutes Horgan went three-for-four from the foul line and scored a lay-up off a pass from Kohler, while Villa got just a single free throw and saw the score close up to 42-41. A little before the three-minute mark, Schmeer bagged a jumper from the right baseline to give the Magic their first lead since the second quarter. It was the junior’s first field goal of the night; her second would rock the building.

At 2:41 Villa’s Mirarchi drove the lane to score, luring Smith into committing her fourth foul in the process. A converted free throw made it 45-43, with the Hurricanes back in front. The clock was down to 1:04 when Smith rebounded her own missed shot and went back up, drawing a foul that was number four on Villa’s Angelos.

The Mount senior sank both shots, and Villa called time-out with 48.6 showing and the game tied at 45-all. The ‘Canes set up in last-shot mode, but Angelos, unpressured above the top of the key, double-dribbled the basketball. Back in possession, Mount St. Joe called its own time-out with 22 ticks to go.

The Magic’s intended final shot, by Smith, missed the mark, but in the scramble for the rebound the ball went out over the baseline off a Villa player. From under the basket with 1.8 seconds left, Horgan inbounded the ball straight through the lane to Schmeer at the foul line.

“It was one of our regular inbounds plays,” the recipient said. “I got open on it in the first quarter and I missed the shot, but this time I knew it was going in as soon as it left my hands.”

Purple pandemonium erupted in the hoops hall, but eventually the crowd settled down for the announcement of the AACA all-star selections, which saw Horgan picked for the first team and Smith named league MVP. They notched 21 and 12 points, respectively, in the finals, with Higgins and Schmeer adding seven apiece in the memorable victory.