by Tom Utescher

Mount senior Maddie Kohler (right) goes to the floor to win a loose ball from a Sacred Heart rival. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Facing a trio of Catholic Academies colleagues last week, Mount St. Joseph Academy sandwiched two home court victories around a loss on the road, and still came away two-games ahead of its nearest league rival in the loss column.

The Magic (10-1 AACA, 17-2 overall) outlasted stubborn Gwynedd Mercy Academy on Tuesday, 29-17, then suffered a 46-42 overtime loss at St. Basil’s two nights later. Returning home for Senior Day on Saturday, the Mount turned a 33-10 halftime lead into a 60-30 victory over Country Day School of the Sacred Heart.

“You never want to lose,” said MSJ coach John Miller, “but sometimes a loss can wake a team up and get you refocused for the rest of the season.”

At the end of last week, the teams closest to the Magic were Villa Maria, at 7-3, and St. Basil’s, at 7-4. The latter team topped the Villa Hurricanes in their first meeting, and the rematch occurs this week. Next were the Jems of Villa Joseph Marie, with a 7-5 league ledger, and the Pandas of Nazareth Academy, at 6-5. These last two clubs each have a rematch against Mount St. Joe in the offing, as does Sacred Heart.

Gwynedd Mercy came into Tuesday’s game at the Mount with a sound defensive strategy, and the Monarchs executed it well. They hustled back downcourt when their own possessions ended to limit the Magic’s scoring in transition, and when the Mounties settled down into their set offense. They found tough going against GMA’s zone. But while this held Mount St. Joe under 30 points for the afternoon, the Magic played their own regular aggressive defense and the Monarchs’ total didn’t get out of the teens.

At the outset, each team lost the ball on a travelling violation. After six minutes had gone by, the visitors held a 3-2 lead thanks to Taylor Sweeney’s three-pointer from out past the top of the key. Sophomore Alex Louin scored on a follow and then hit from the three-point arc, and the Mount never trailed again.

Mount St. Joe turned a 7-5 edge at the quarter into a 16-8 advantage by the intermission, but Louin, with seven points (and eight total rebounds), would not score again. Fortunately for the hosts, their other tenth-grade starter, forward Carly Monzo, collected all of her six total points after the break, and senior guard Bridget Higgins remained consistent, netting four points in each half of the low-scoring affair.

The Magic did not score a field goal in the third quarter until the final minute, only marking down a pair of Monzo free throws. Gwynedd’s Caroline Shimrock, who hadn’t scored in the first two quarters, deposited a driving lay-up and hit four of five free throws in the first seven minutes of the third round, helping get Gwynedd within three points, 18-15. Higgins bagged a jumper from inside of the foul line for the Mount, and Monzo grabbed a rebound and hit a reverse lay-up for a 22-15 tally at the three-quarter mark.

When the final round got underway, the Magic simply held the ball out near the half-court line, trying to lure Gwynedd out of its defensive formation. Just over three minutes went by in this manner, then the Monarchs came after the ball. Higgins nailed a 15-footer with 3:26 on the clock and Monzo scored on a breakaway after that. The Magic went on to a 7-2 final frame, with junior Kelsey Jones providing the final three points from the foul line.

“Gwynedd played us tough, and they’ve also played well against Villa Maria and St. Basil’s,” the Mount’s Miller pointed out.

Next up for his ball club was that same St. Basil’s, a team the Magic handled, 50-21, in a contest just before Christmas. The Panthers’ best player, guard Erin Fenningham, had just come back off of knee surgery at that time, and in the weeks that followed, both she and the team overall grew stronger. In addition, the rematch between the two schools took place on Basil’s home court, in one of the most confined gyms in the league.

It was a recipe for a “trap” game, but nevertheless the Magic almost avoided it. They led 38-35 near the end of regulation play, but the game was forced into overtime by a last-second three-point bucket by the Panthers’ Kalee Fuegel, who had not played when the teams met back in December.

She wound up with 11 points, close behind Fenningham, who finished with a game-high 14 points after the Panthers outscored the Magic, 8-4, in the extra session. Mount St. Joe received 11 points from Cailin Schmeer and 10 apiece from Jones and Louin.

“The disappointing thing for us,” MSJ’s Miller related, “was that we did have a three-point lead, with the ball, with 10 seconds left in the second half. When you lose a game like that, as a coach you second-guess yourself and ask what you could have done differently for the girls to help us win. At practice we talked about what we could do in the future in situations like that, then we just said that’s water over the falls and now let’s concentrate on the league games we have left.”

Other than that, the Magic didn’t need much of a pep talk when Sacred Heart paid a visit on Saturday afternoon. The Lions stayed close through much of the opening quarter, only trailing 8-6 with less than two minutes to go. In the last 90 seconds, Louin fired a baseline jumper, and both she and Higgins hit three-point shots. Fouled on her triple, Higgins hooped the free throw to close the period with a 17-6 tally.

Before the game began, Higgins, Schmeer, and Maddie Kohler were the focus of Senior Day festivities, which drew a large crowd to the MSJ gym. Kohler will attend St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., and her two classmates are still in the process of determining their destinations.

In the second quarter of the game, the Magic added a dozen points to their lead, and were able to enter cruise control mode for the remainder of the afternoon. Coach Miller had five reserves on the floor for the start of the fourth quarter, then he put the seniors back in just long enough to withdraw them one-by-one to receive a standing ovation from the crowd.

Higgins (four rebounds, five steals, four assists) ended up with 14 points and Louin had 12 in the victory, with eight points apiece coming from Schmeer (five assists), Jones, and Monzo. Kohler came away with four points and four steals, and Adrienne Cellucci, Regan Gallagher, and Gen Hagedorn had two points each.

Sacred Heart’s Debornay Kidd and Alana Tucker turned in eight and six points, respectively.