by Tom Utescher
At halftime of last Wednesday’s Pa. Independent Schools quarterfinal game, the girls of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy seemed to be following the scenario of their first two meetings with Shipley School this season.

Senior Sydni Epps scored a game-high 17 points last week in her final performance for Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

The SCH lost to the Gators in a tip-off tournament, 53-37, and in a December 22nd meeting, 56-36, and last week in the third go-round the Lions trailed 34-19 at the intermission. The Gators did go on to win the third game, but this time it was only by a one-point margin, 50-49.

“We had the ball a couple times down one point, but we just couldn’t score,” said first-year SCH coach Steve Purcell. “Still, we played much better in the second half, at both ends of the floor.”

A week earlier the Lions had tied Penn Charter for fourth place in the Girls Inter-Ac with a final league record of 7-5. Last week, seventh-seeded SCH opened up in the Pa. Indy tournament with a 45-24 home court victory over number 10 Abington Friends. Two days later the loss to second-seeded Shipley, the eventual champion, ended the Lions’ season with an overall record of 14-14, reflecting a strong finish after the team had been 7-13 on January 27.

After taking a 12-2 lead in the first quarter of Monday’s tournament opener with AFS, the Lions appeared to ease off a bit, increasing their margin gradually over the last three periods. Of course, that whole time they had at least two starters on the bench, and the reserves saw plenty of action.

It was the final appearance in the Vare Field House for four seniors: Michelle Boggs (13 points, nine rebounds), Sydni Epps (11 points, 10 rebounds, three assists), Elana Roadcloud (four points, five rebounds), and Alexis Giovinazzo. Junior Gianna Pownall finished with 13 points and five assists, and the Lions got two points apiece from sophomores Madi Sehn and Katie Shields.

SCH travelled to Shipley two days later, and despite a first-round bye the host Gators came out ready to rock, and rolled to a 34-19 halftime lead against the locals. The Lions slipped behind 8-3 in the first period, and the second quarter turned into a track meet that Shipley won, 26-16.

“When we both started to run, it favored them,” said Purcell. “Things got a little crazy and we put up some bad shots.”

In addition, Boggs, the Lions’ power player in the post, had to take a seat with two personal fouls, giving a more of a free rein to Shipley’s 6’3” sophomore Aja Ellison and 6’4” freshman Martine Fortune. SCH’s Pownall had scored 29 points in the first two encounters with the Gators, and this time they clamped down on her, holding her to one point with four assists.

In the second half it would cost the Lions nothing to take risks, so they concentrated pressure on Shipley’s primary ballhandler, sophomore Tamesha “Sox” Alexander.

“When she got the ball we ran at her and always tried to double-team,” Purcell said. “We got some turnovers and steals, and we scored on a lot of them to get back in the game. That second quarter was what killed us; we gave up 26 points, and then we held them to 16 the whole second half.”

The Lions came on for 30 points after the interlude but couldn’t quite get over the hump.

Epps had 17 points and three rebounds and Boggs had 16 points and six boards to lead the Lions. Roadcloud (seven points) and sophomore Julia Schumacher (eight points) had four rebounds apiece.

Shipley received 13 points from Alexander, 10 from Ellison (11 rebounds), and four from Fortune (12 rebounds), while sophomore shooting guard Colleen Walsh canned three three-point field goals in the second quarter.

Although the Lions lost in their season swansong, as most teams do, they came into the Shipley game with a seven-game winning streak, and they had won their least four league games, including contests against Penn Charter and the teams that tied for second place in the Inter-Ac, Episcopal and Notre Dame. They eliminated many of the recurring mistakes that had cost them second-half leads earlier in the season.

“We started to settle down and play more as a team,” explained Boggs. “It took awhile with a new coach to get our plays right and things like that. Our coaches were behind us and kept telling us to keep working.”

The senior said that after some potential wins turned into defeats in the middle of January “We had a bunch of meetings, we hung out together, and we had a team sleepover, and I think that helped a lot. We needed to come together and focus more at practice, which we did. We tried to stay positive, even if we missed a shot or something. Coach said it just takes one person to put their head down and get negative, and there’s a ripple effect, so I think we all improved our attitudes.”