Mount hoopsters head to league final at 23-0
Saying that Tara Barr adequately answered the call is understating the matter.
Normally Mount St. Joseph Academy’s sixth man, the 5’9” junior forward was tabbed to start in last Saturday’s league semifinal after Magic high scorer Elle Hagedorn sprained her left ankle four days earlier. Scoring 10 of the first dozen points for the top-seeded Mount, Barr led the team out to a 14-11 halftime lead over the number four Nazareth Academy Pandas.
It was a low-scoring affair overall, but points piled up late in the contest for Mount St. Joe, who made 13 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter and beat Nazareth, 40-29. The victory moved the Mount into this week’s Athletic Association of Catholic Academies championship game, and also kept the Magic undefeated for the season, at 23-0.
Barr pulled five rebounds and paced the MSJ offense with a total of 14 points, second only to Nazareth center Carleigh Brown, a Rider College recruit who posted 17 points with four rebounds and three blocked shots.
“Any time she went in during the season, Tara came up huge for us,” remarked Mount Coach John Miller.
The Pandas (15-8, 8-7 AACA) got eight points from guard Jess Sylvester, but after that their output dropped to the two points apiece scored by Maggie Borski and Leah Kuczynski. For the winners, sophomore forward Steph Smith was right behind Barr with 13 points and five rebounds. There was solid supplemental scoring, too, with five points from sophomore guard Mary Jo Horgan, and four apiece from two seniors, guard Jen Sabia (six assists, five rebounds) and forward Shannon Bridges.
In their only other outing last week, the Magic capped a perfect regular-season run with a 49-26 win over Gwynedd Mercy Academy. It was a costly victory, though. With five points already in the book early in the opening quarter, Hagedorn made another basket while being fouled, but was injured on the play. What was later diagnosed as a low-ankle sprain knocked her out of the AACA playoffs, but she’s likely to return for the District I tournament as the Mount sets about defending its 2008 Class AAA state championship.
“I didn’t think the loss of Elle would affect the team mentally,” Coach Miller revealed. “In terms of attitude and teamwork, we didn’t miss a beat. We lost, arguably, the most talented player in the league, but the way the girls adjusted you never would’ve known our best player just got hurt. We might have had the three best practices of our entire season in the three days leading up to the Nazareth game.”
Although seeded fourth, Nazareth was not to be taken lightly. The Mount had needed a buzzer-beater from Sabia to knock off the Pandas up in Northeast Philly, and in the return engagement the host Magic won 40-33.
Arriving at Gwynedd Mercy College, where the AACA playoffs were held, Barr admitted she was “very nervous” about starting in Saturday’s semifinal. The arena was crowded and loud, and in the stands were many members of her family, including her grandmother, who happens to be named Roseanne Barr.
“During the warm-ups, the butterflies went away and I was ready to play,” the MSJ junior related. “I know I need to be there when other girls can’t be; that’s just my role on the team. Every player has a job to do, and you’re not treated any differently because you’re a starter or you come off the bench.”
The sidelined Hagedorn agreed, pointing out, “Everybody does what’s best for the team, not for us individually, and I think that’s why we’re doing so well. Tara played awesome. I don’t know if they thought they didn’t have to guard her, but if they did, she made them pay.”
Standing 5’ 10” with great leaping ability, Harvard-bound Hagedorn is considered one of the team’s two “big” players, along with the six-foot Smith. Nazareth didn’t seem prepared to take full advantage of her absence; often the Pandas did not have their two 6-1 starters, Brown and Kuczynski, on the court at the same time.
When the early tone of the contest was being established during the first quarter, the Pandas pulled Kuczynski off the floor and didn’t send her back until almost the end of the period. Later, both Nazareth “bigs” were in the game when MSJ’s Smith stepped to the foul line for a pair of free throws. After Smith made the first shot, both Brown and Kuczynski were withdrawn to the Nazareth bench. Smith missed on her second attempt, but guess who got the rebound and then another trip to the foul line? The Mount.
If Nazareth hoped to succeed by trading size for speed, it didn’t work. Over the first nine minutes of the contest, the Magic guards (particularly Sabia) found Barr as she made quick cuts to the basket. Horgan had opened the scoring with a pair of foul shots, and the Mount moved out to a 10-8 lead at the end of the first quarter, with Brown netting six of Nazareth’s points.
In the first minute of the second quarter, a three-pointer by Sylvester gave the Pandas their only lead of the night, 11-10. Horgan passed inside to set up Barr’s fifth field goal, then Barr assisted Smith on a driving lay-up, setting the halftime score at 14-11. The low output seemed due to a combination of nervous shooters and stalwart defenders on both sides; the two teams shot under 30 percent from the floor during the first half. Late in the second quarter, the playoff jitters also generated four consecutive traveling violations – two for each side.
The offenses were a bit more productive in the third stanza; it was an 8-8 standoff that sent the Magic into the fourth period with a 22-19 edge. Over the first four minutes of the final round, the Pandas added field goals by Brown and Kuczynski, but a “three” and a foul shot by Smith and a jumper by Sabia increased the MSJ lead by another two points (28-23).
With 3:59 to go Kuczynski committed a non-shooting foul, but it was her fourth of the game and Nazareth’s sixth of the half. Neither club scored for more than a minute after that, then with 2:45 to go the Pandas picked up their seventh foul, and the Mounties began marching to the line. That’s where the Magic acquired their last dozen points of the evening; Barr and Bridges went four-for-four, Sabia shot two-for-two, and Smith sank two of four tosses. In the stretch run Nazareth’s Kuczynski fouled out, while Brown shot four-for-six from the free throw line and then made a lay-up with a dozen seconds remaining to set the final margin at 11 points.