GFS freshman Lizzie Becker (left) drives past Lauren Gold of Abington Friends. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

A few wins away from even making the 2012 Friends Schools League playoffs in girls basketball, Germantown Friends was able to close out its 2013 FSL season with an appearance in the semifinals last Wednesday, when GFS faced another franchise whose stock is on the rise.

Falling behind by eight points in the first period, the Tigers kept themselves in the game and only trailed host Abington Friends by five (25-20) going into the fourth quarter. Shooting nine-for-nine at the free throw line in that final stanza, the second-seeded AFS Kangaroos pulled away to win, 46-30.

“Obviously, the final score doesn’t reflect how close the game was most of the way,” remarked first-year GFS head coach Ashley Webster. “I told my girls how proud I was of them; they put so much heart and so much effort into that game.”

The scenario followed by the two teams was similar to that seen in their regular-season meeting, when Abington generated much of its 14-point margin of victory (50-36) in the fourth period. The Kangaroos were the last team to make the Friends League tournament a year ago, and fell to champion Shipley School in the semifinals. This winter, Abington was the second-place squad in the regular season, succumbing only to Shipley for an FSL record of 7-1.

The only setbacks in league play for Germantown Friends came against AFS and the Shipley Gators, who are also the defending Pa. Independent School champions. Following Wednesday’s semifinal, the Tigers were 11-9 overall, and the Kangaroos, 19-6.

Abington had prepared well for the inside/outside offensive threats for GFS, junior forward Caroline Myran and freshman point guard Lizzie Becker, who can be dangerous from three-point range.

After the semifinal was over, AFS coach Jeff Bond noted “Yesterday we watched the film of our first game with them, and we felt that we would have some success against their offense if we played them man-to-man. We knew that Myran and Becker were tough stops defensively and I thought our girls did a pretty good job on them.”

The Tigers’ Webster commented, “They were all over Lizzie, which we knew was going to happen. We needed other people to step up and they did. Sophie [Mercuris, a senior guard] hit some big jump shots, and Caroline played awesome inside. Lizzie had a couple shots outside, but they just didn’t fall. Early in the game we worked so hard for offensive rebounds, and we couldn’t get the put-backs to go in.”

GFS missed its first eight field goal attempts before Mercuris assisted on a lay-up by senior classmate Katherine Walden more than four minutes into the action. Fortunately for the visitors, Abington was not burning up the scoreboard, either, and had only six points at the time.

Coach Bond said “I give Ashley [Webster] credit, she had a great defensive scheme for this game. That one-two-two [zone] they played against us was really effective.”

Abington’s major threat at guard is senior Lauren Gold, who started her high school career at Council Rock North High School and who is receiving a lot of interest from Division II college programs. Senior forward Alexa Bowman will be playing soccer at the next level, but she gives the ‘Roos a lot of varsity basketball experience, while a strong freshman forward, Alexa Middleton, scored all of her 12 points in Wednesday’s game during the second half.

The Tigers’ early drought on offense helped bring about a 10-2 shortfall late in the first frame, but Myran hit a lay-up and then scored again by converting the rebound of a Walden jumper. Mercuris banked in a ball from near the foul line to make it a two-point contest (10-8) early in the second round, then Abington recovered thanks to Gold, whose two lay-ups and two free throws helped the Kangaroos take an 18-12 lead into the halftime locker room.

Fouls were relatively rare in the first half – four for AFS and three for the Tigers – but Abington’s total mounted during the third period, which ended with Germantown getting into the bonus while committing only two fouls of its own. However, GFS only made six of 11 attempts from the free throw line in the third stanza, and there actually was potential for a 12th point with the one-and-one at the end of the period.

With a Mercuris jumper as their only field goal of the third round, the Tigers were still just five points behind for the start of the fourth quarter, at 25-20. AFS had garnered its seven third-period points on a steal by Bowman, a three-pointer by Gold, and a bank shot by Middleton, but the bad news for Germantown was that Middleton was just getting warmed up.

Fouled on a successful lay-up off of a steal, the Kangaroos’ Gold hit the free throw as well during the opening minute of the fourth quarter, then a 15-footer by Mercuris got the visitors back within six at 28-22. GFS really got burned by Middleton in the last six-and-a-half minutes, though. The freshman scored twice from the paint and shot six-for-six from the foul line as the officials’ whistles began to be directed towards the Tigers.

Gold scored a second lay-up for the hosts and hit all three of her foul shots during the concluding quarter. Although Germantown’s Becker bagged two free throws and popped in a 15-footer from the right wing, the Tigers gradually fell farther and farther behind.

Myran and Mercuris collected a total of 10 and nine points, respectively, while Becker scored six. Three points from sophomore guard Imani Ross and two from Walden completed the Tigers’ tally. Abington marked down 14 rebounds for Middleton to go with her 12 points, while Gold led all scorers, with 18. Rounding it out for the ‘Roos were seven points from Bowman, four from Isabel McPeak, three from Bianca Adams, and two from Aja Turner.

Webster revealed that in the GFS locker room, “There was obviously some disappointment, but also a sense of pride among the girls because of what they accomplished this season.”