Mount passes second test against Nazareth, Villa
Last Tuesday basketball fans filled the stands and lined several of the wall of the Mount St. Joseph Academy gym, watching the Magic perform in their last major home game of the regular season.
The contest was an Athletic Association of Catholic Academies rematch against Nazareth Academy, whom the Mount had beaten on a last-second shot in a Jan. 6 road game. The Magic had a little more room to spare this time, defeating the Pandas, 40-33, with balanced scoring from Jen Sabia (11 points, six rebounds, four assists), Elle Hagedorn (nine points, eight rebounds), Mary Jo Horgan (nine points, four rebounds), and Shannon Bridges (eight points).
Two days later, Mount St. Joe had a closer scrape out at Villa Maria Academy, trailing by a point at the start of the fourth quarter but then coming on to beat the Hurricanes, 41-37. Sabia had another 11-point afternoon, and the winners received 10 points from Smith, nine from Hagedorn, eight from Horgan, two from Bridges, and one from Meg Rothwell.
Ending their week with Saturday’s 59-40 victory over another AACA club, Merion Mercy, the Mounties closed out the month of January with a record of 13-0 in the league, and 21-0 overall.
As the end of the regular season approached, MSJ coach John Miller reflected, “After graduating the amount of talent that we did from last year’s team [five of the top seven players], for this team to embark on what is now a 21-0 journey, I think has been quite remarkable.”
On Tuesday, a key for the Magic was yielding a relatively modest total of 11 points and seven rebounds to Nazareth’s Carleigh Brown, a 6’, 1” forward who has signed with Rider University.
Speaking of her own teammate Steph Smith, Mount St. Joe’s Hagedorn commented, “Steph did a great job guarding Carleigh; you wouldn’t think she’s a sophomore by watching her play. Actually, Coach came to me yesterday in practice and said he thought he’d have Steph cover Carleigh because she’s more her size, and then have me there to help. I think that worked out really well.”
Smith would finish with three points, four steals, and three assists in the game.
The Mount and Nazareth went through the opening quarter neck-and-neck, with a late trey by Sabia giving the Magic a 13-10 edge at the end of the period. By the middle of the second round the hosts had widened the gap slightly to five points at 18-14, but Nazareth’s two senior “bigs” rallied the Pandas, with Leah Kuczynski driving the lane twice and Brown adding a bucket on an inside move to put the visitors ahead, 19-18, about two-and-a-half minutes before halftime.
After that, however, Nazareth would go without a field goal for 14 minutes and 48 seconds. MSJ defenders got a hand, or at least a few fingers, on numerous Nazareth entry passes, and when the visitors did manage to get the ball inside, they missed lay-ups.
The Magic didn’t cause smoke to pour from the scoreboard themselves, but their defense stifled their ursine opponents, and the Pandas trailed, 31-22, going into the fourth quarter.
“After we got that lead,” Hagedorn said, “I think our defense tightened up and was just playing really well.”
That’s a good thing, because even with some strong perimeter shooting, the Magic made just 11 of their 40 field goal attempts throughout the game.
“I think we were playing a little out of our element – a little faster pace than we normally play,” Hagedorn remarked. “It was good for our defense, but I think on offense we rushed our shots a little bit.”
Sabia, whose three-pointer at the buzzer beat Nazareth in the earlier meeting between the teams, had two treys in the book by the three-quarter mark, and the Pandas were also troubled by triples from an unexpected source, MSJ forward Shannon Bridges. She knocked down a “three” in each half and finished with eight points overall.
The Magic slowed down the pace on offense fairly early in the fourth quarter, but Nazareth sandwiched a score off a rebound by Brown and a three-point bucket by Maggie Borski around a lone Mount free throw, and it was a five-point game (32-27) as the clock cut into the final two minutes. Sabia and Smith each converted a one-and-one to lever the lead back out to nine, and a lay-up by visitor Jess Sylvester was matched by two free throws for Horgan as the tally rose to 38-29.
After Kuczynski scored on a drive for the visitors, the Magic bungled an inbounds play on their defensive baseline, and Nazareth’s Kuczynski hit her final lay-up. The Pandas called their last time-out with 12 seconds remaining, then came back out and fouled Hagedorn. The MSJ senior collected both points to make it 40-33, and at the other end a missed shot by Nazareth was rebounded by Horgan.
In front of a throng of howling Hurricanes fans on Thursday, the visiting Magic trailed host Villa Maria at the three-quarter mark, 26-25. Mount St. Joe inched ahead and was leading 35-33 as the clock wound down to the two-minute mark. Villa forward Erin Mann would score the bulk of her game-high 14 points in the final stages of the game as the ‘Canes tried to overtake the Magic.
Sabia related, “We literally would have three people on her, straight-up, like all over her, and she would turn around and make the shot.”
The hosts had to foul to keep Mount St. Joe from holding the ball, and as the Magic got into the foul bonus flawless one-and-one’s by Horgan and Hagedorn were balanced by Hurricane field goals to make it 39-37.
With six seconds to go Villa committed its ninth team foul, and Sabia stuck both shots from the stripe to put the final score on the board.
“I think Jen Sabia has just been the glue for us,” MSJ coach John Miller remarked. “Her positive personality rubs off on everybody. Before every game, their mindset is just that they’re going to win.”
When Merion Mercy visited on Saturday for the Magic’s last regular-season home game, Mount St. Joseph bid a ceremonial Senior Day farewell to Bridges, Hagedorn, Rothwell, and Sabia. After that, the Magic sent the Golden Bears packing, gaining a ten-point halftime advantage after a slow start. Mount St. Joe was out front, 46-29, after three quarters and coasted home behind 19 points from Hagedorn, 16 from Sabia, 10 from Horgan, and seven apiece from Smith and Tara Barr.