Point guard Kara Celano piled up 19 points for Norwood Fontbonne Academy in a league semifinal game against top-seeded Waldron Mercy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The Norwood Fontbonne Academy girls basketball squad was a four-seed paying a one-seed in last week’s league tournament semifinal, and the Bears were also playing on the road, but they took number one Waldron Mercy Academy down to the wire before succumbing, 41-40.

NFA overcame a first-quarter shortfall to gain a 19-12 halftime advantage in the February 25 contest. Waldron was back within two points for the start of the fourth quarter, and then went ahead 36-30 before the Chestnut Hill franchise closed the gap at the end.

There had been a six-team scramble for the four playoff spots in the Girls Catholic Academies League, and Norwood wound up being the last ballclub to get in, ranking fourth with a league mark of 9-6. The Bears went 1-1 their two regular-season games against Waldron (the grade school which adjoins Merion Mercy, a member of the high school Academies League), but Waldron fared better overall, locking up the top seed with a mark of 12-3.

In the other GCAL semifinal last week, number three Villa Maria fell to second-seeded Notre Dame, and even though the Irish lost twice to Waldron in the regular season, they would go on to win the league championship game.

During the regular season, Norwood was on track to do better in its second set of league games than in the first round, but the team suffered a personnel setback when forward Audrey Hinchey dislocated her shoulder and was done for the duration.

Early scoring from power forward Morgan Montoute and guard Regan Schmidt spotted Waldron a 7-3 lead over the first five minutes of last week’s semifinal, but guard Kara Celano and center Chloe Burns helped bring the Bears back. When NFA’s Grace Gelone scored off a rebound right at the buzzer to end the opening period, the visitors were just one point behind, 12-11.

An assiduous effort on defense allowed Norwood to shut down the opposing offense entirely in an 8-0 second quarter. The home team turned the ball over several time through travelling violations, and four points apiece by Burns and Celano powered the number four seed to a 19-12 halftime advantage.

Waldron got back in contention in the third round, scoring several times directly off of steals, and also tossing a three-point field goal into the mix. NFA’s Gelone and Burns each scored twice from the paint, but at the three-quarter mark, the Bears’ lead was down to two points, 27-25.

Montoute and guard Julianne Shea led Waldron on an 8-1 run to start the fourth quarter, making it 33-28 with four minutes to go.

Waldron was fouling a good deal, though, and over the next few minutes six-for-six foul-shooting by the Bears kept their hopes alive. However, early in the final minute they were still down five, now 39-34. Celano stuck a three-pointer from the right wing, then she and her teammates forced a five-second call against Waldron at the baseline.

Norwood turned the ball back over by stepping on the sideline, which was a broad band of paint that seemed to confuse the visitors at times.

On a subsequent tie-up, the ball went to Waldron with 23.9 seconds to go. The Bears had to foul after that, and they slipped back to a four-point deficit (41-37) as Schmidt made both of her free throws for the home team.

With 11 seconds left, two more Waldron free throws that could’ve iced the win were off-target. NFA came down the court one last time and Celano bagged a “three” from the left side with three seconds left. After the ball went through the net, it bounced out over the baseline while the clock kept running, and Waldron came away with a 41-40 victory.

Celano led all scorers with 19 points, and Norwood received 10 points from Burns, nine from Gelone, and two from Georgia Powell.

Waldron also had two double-digit scorers in Montoute (13) and Schmidt (11), and Michala Maciolek was close behind, with nine points.