Slender sophomore Mary Kate Ulasewicz got knocked around a good deal in Saturday’s set-to with St. Hubert’s, but the Mount St. Joe guard hung tough and finished with five points, which turned out to be the Magic’s margin of victory. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Mount St. Joseph Academy ended the first week of 2013 with a record of 10-1, but the process of attaining that mark has occasionally frayed the nerves of Magic hoops fans. There have been a lot of fourth-quarter fireworks over the past month or so, including come-from-behind wins over Villa Maria, Gwynedd Mercy, and Shipley School.

The latest example was a home game last Saturday afternoon, when the Mount notched a 52-47 victory over Catholic League Northern Division contender St. Hubert’s. An apparently comfortable 31-23 lead in the middle of the third quarter disappeared before the end of the period, and the fourth round featured a pitched battle with the Bambies before the Magic officially recorded their ninth win in a row.

Mount St. Joe had led St. Hubert’s (6-4) by as many as a dozen points before halftime, and coach John Miller pointed out, “We hurt ourselves a little bit. Defensively, we obviously didn’t play as well in the second half as we did in the first half. But this team doesn’t panic, doesn’t get frustrated, and somehow we find a way to win close games.”

Following their one-point victory over Shipley just before Christmas, the Magic continued their dominance of the George W. Snear Tournament in Conshohocken, beating Lansdale Catholic and Pope John Paul II to take the title. Last Thursday Mount St. Joe returned to Catholic Academies action, ascending to a 5-0 mark thanks to a 51-35 victory at St. Basil’s.

“I thought we played very well in the Christmas tournament,” Miller said, “and then defeating Basil’s at Basil’s by 16 was a real good effort, even though the score might have been deceiving.”

The Snear tourney championship had come at a cost though, since senior point guard Kelsey Jones went down with a knee injury and will require surgery. The troublesome joint has plagued Jones over the past few years, but the Philadelphia University signee has borne her misfortunes with admirable good humor and fortitude.

Having scouted St. Hubert’s during their 64-32 romp over Springside Chestnut Hill Academy two weeks earlier, MSJ’s Miller knew not to take the Bambies lightly last Saturday.

After the Northeast Philly team broke the ice with a lay-up by forward Charlotte Kucowski (a cousin of SCH senior guard Maddi Hinchey), the Magic outscored their guests 17-8 in the remainder of the opening quarter. They started out with a three-pointer by senior Adrienne Cellucci (a guard who will attend Ursinus College) and then received nine points from junior Alex Louin later in the first period.

The Bambies steadied themselves, but by halftime the Mount had nudged its lead up to eight points at 24-16, and the hosts were ahead by the same margin midway through the third quarter. Mixing up inside and outside scoring from four different players, St. Hubert’s roared back, and a three-pointer from the top of the key by Casey Matthews put the visitors up 34-33 with 70 seconds to go in the period.

However, the Bambies had been fouling as well as scoring, and the Mount’s Louin took full advantage of a one-and-one chance in the final minute to send her team into the final round with a 35-34 edge. As the last stanza began, a free throw by senior Meg Geatens and Cellucci’s second “three” of the afternoon reinforced the home team’s lead, but St. Hubert’s wouldn’t go away.

Although the Magic kept Kucowski pretty much in check after the intermission following her nine first-half points, a smaller but strongly-built forward, Meghan Matthews, came on for the Bambies, and so did guard Kelly Riley. Fighting off little comeback runs by the visitors, Mount St. Joe eventually gained a 49-43 advantage with 1:35 to go, but back-to-back buckets by Riley and Kucowski made it a two-point game as the final minute began.

Uncharacteristically, the Magic missed three straight free throws, then Mary Kate Ulasewicz made the second of her two tosses. The sophomore guard latched onto the basketball again following a missed shot by the Bambies at the other end, and she drew another foul. This time she stuck both shots from the stripe, completing the scoring with two seconds left.

She finished with five points, as did freshman Libby Tacka. Louin fired a game-high 17 points, Geatens and Cellucci had 13 and eight points, respectively, and junior Carly Monzo scored four. Kucowski led the Bambies with 13, while Meghan Matthews had 10 of her 12 in the second half and Riley netted six of her eight points after the interlude.