March 11, 2010

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Overtime win puts Mount back in state tournament

In a District 1 semifinal game, the Mount’s Steph Smith (#31) goes up for a shot while being double-teamed by Maddie McTigue (left) and Laura Zarkoski (right) of Villa Maria Academy.

In Coach John Miller’s four-year tenure, Mount St. Joseph Academy has never lost two games in a row, nor has the Magic ever failed to earn a spot in the PIAA Class AAA state tournament.

Both streaks were put on the line last week in the concluding chapters of the 2010 District 1 tournament. On Tuesday, the Mount lost a district semifinal contest, 51-40, to a fellow Catholic Academies club, Villa Maria. By advancing to the championship game, Villa and fellow finalist St. Basil locked up two of the three spots available to District 1 teams in the state tourney, while the Mount would have to vie for that last PIAA berth with Springfield (Delco) High School. The Cougars had lost to Catholic Academies champ St. Basil in Tuesday’s other semifinal, 46-41.

In a Saturday play-in game with Springfield, the Magic came from behind to send the contest into overtime, then had junior Steph Smith complete a lay-up-and-one sequence with ten seconds remaining in OT to pull out a 38-36 win.

As a result, the Mount will play a first-round state tournament game this Saturday against the District 3 runner-up, the Bulldogs of West York High School (27-2). The contest is slated for a 3:00 PM start at Central Dauphin East High School in Harrisburg.

Smith, a six-foot forward, was the Mount’s high scorer in the District 1 semifinal and consolation games with 11 and 18 points, respectively, but she also accumulated a total of nine personal fouls in the two contests, leaving the court in the Villa contest in the middle of the fourth quarter.

Against Springfield she picked up her third personal nine seconds before halftime, and her fourth just a minute-and-a-half into the third period. Coach Miller left her out on the floor, and she avoided another ejection.

“Her staying in the game despite those four fouls won us that game in the end,” stated senior Tara Barr, a fellow MSJ forward.

It was a curious consolation contest in that it matched up District 1’s first and second seeds, both upset victims. The second-seeded Magic had been vanquished by Villa, the sixth-ranked team, while the top-seeded Springfield Cougars had succumbed to number four St. Basil. Coached by 1982 Mount St. Joseph graduate Kim Smith, Springfield had gone into the semifinal round with a record of 22-0.

No team reaches the brink of elimination by design, but the Mounties may have put themselves in a favorable position by falling into the play-in game and then winning it. The way the state tourney bracket is set up, the third seed out of District 1 plays in the bottom half, made up largely of schools from central and western Pa.

Those teams are relatively unknown quantities who may in fact measure up well against the Mount, but in theory the Magic could advance all the way to the finals without having to play St. Basil and Villa Maria, or Philadelphia Catholic League powers such as Archbishop Wood and defending state champ Archbishop Carroll. The Mount won the state championship in 2008, and in their other two Class AAA tourneys they were eliminated by eastern Pa. teams, Villa in 2007 (semifinals) and Carroll in 2009 (quarterfinals).

During the 2009-2010 school year, Villa Maria’s Zarkosky clan has developed a reputation as Mount-killers. Back in the fall, Villa senior goalie Anna Zarkoski allowed just one goal in two field hockey games against the Magic, while the Hurricanes scored ten times at the other end.

In last Tuesday’s district semifinal in basketball, Anna’s cousin Laura Zarkosky, also an upperclassman, recorded a double-double (13 points, ten rebounds) to help the ‘Canes avenge two regular-season losses to the Magic. A forward who turned 18 on the day of the game, Zarkosky shared game-high scoring honors with teammate Ellen Cannon (three assists), a senior guard.

An ongoing defensive goal for the Magic is to hold opponents under a total of 40 points, but as Coach Miller pointed out, “They had over 30 points by halftime. When we played Villa Maria two times [earlier] this year, we held them to 38 both times, even when they still had Brooke Angelos, one of their better players.”

Angelos, a junior guard, participated in the first Mount-Villa contest in early January, but later on she was sidelined with a high ankle sprain and a related knee problem. She could return for the state tournament.

After the Magic assumed a 3-0 lead on free throws, long distance shooters stepped into the spotlight, but unfortunately for the Mount, only sophomore Maddie Kohler was lofting three-pointers for the Magic, while Villa had Cannon, Kellie O’Rourke (11 points, four rebounds) and Brianna Forde (10 points, four rebounds, four assists) popping from the perimeter in a 17-8 opening quarter.

Cannon hit two treys and a 15-footer from the floor and made all four of her free throws to help produce a 31- 20 halftime lead for the Hurricanes, who had Zarkosky working nearer to the basket. She chalked up eight points on a jumper from near the foul line and three lay-ups.

Kohler, with three treys and a free throw, provided half of the points for Mount St. Joe in the first two periods.

The scoring pace slowed down for the start of the second half, and this didn’t benefit the Magic. In the first four minutes, Villa went up 35-20, while MSJ’s Smith picked up her second and third fouls of the game, both on charges.

The Magic had trouble making any serious inroads into the Hurricanes’ lead, and ultimately the third and fourth quarters each ended in a draw, 9-9 and 12-12. Smith would finish with a team-high 11 points, but she was slapped with her third offensive foul early in the fourth round and then picked up her fifth overall with 4:35 left to play.

“I think at the beginning of the year my kids were a little afraid of her and were backing off,” commented ‘Canes coach Kathy McCartney, “but tonight they went at her a number of times. That little bit of confidence makes a difference.”

Mount St. Joe had freshman Kelsey Jones come off the bench to contribute eight points, while Barr (four rebounds) and junior guard Mary Jo Horgan (four assists, three steals) scored six points apiece.

“Sometimes, you’ve got to give credit to the other team,” MSJ’s Miller said. “Villa Maria played very well tonight, and they made a high percentage of their outside shots, particularly in the first half when they built up that lead.”

“Let’s be honest; you’ve got an advantage if you lose to a team twice and you come in as the underdog,” explained Villa’s McCartney. “It’s a psychological advantage and our kids responded really well to that.”

At Saturday’s game, there was another eerie echo of field hockey season for Mount sports fans. The contest took place at West Chester East, the same school where the MSJ sticksters had ended their 2009 season with a loss in a play-in match for the state tourney.

To avoid a similar fate, the Magic hoops squad would have to find a way to contain 6-1 Springfield senior McNeishia McKenzie, a fast, high-flying forward who has signed with Rider University. McKenzie is a friend of MSJ’s Smith, and they’ve played together in the Running Rebels AAU club program. The two dueled almost to a draw, Smith finishing with 18 points and eight rebounds, and McKenzie with 16 points and 10 boards.

The opening period ended with a put-back by Chimera Dennis (four points total) that gave Springfield a 9-8 edge, then McKenzie showed her versatility by lobbing in a “three” and scoring off of a steal and off an offensive rebound. Maddy McKnight (eight points, three steals) hit a lay-up and a foul shot and Shannon Burns (five points, four rebounds) added a free throw. With single field goals from Smith and Horgan, the Magic were behind at the interlude, 20-12.

Barr tallied off of a rebound, but it was Horgan who carried the Mount offense during the third quarter, hitting a lay-up and two free throws, and then nailing the Magic’s lone three pointer of the afternoon late in the period. With Horgan’s heave from the outside, the Magic drew within one point of the leaders, 22-21.

The next five baskets scored were all lay-ups, one by Smith off a rebound, and four by Springfield. The first of these shots from the paint afforded the Cougars a 24-21 advantage at the three-quarter mark, and the last one, on a back-door play finished by Burns, put Springfield up 30-23 with 4:12 to go in the fourth period.

Smith stuck a little jumper from the left baseline, then Springfield turned the ball back over and committed its sixth team foul of the half. Two more whistles against the Cougars resulted in two made free throws by Horgan and one by Jones. With 1:48 to go, a lay-up by Smith tied the game at 30-30, and neither team could break the deadlock during the remainder of the fourth frame. Following a time-out with 11 seconds left, the Magic had the last shot, but missed. The Cougars rebounded the ball but the buzzer sounded immediately.

In the first half of the four-minute overtime the Magic edged ahead 33-30 as Smith nailed both ends of a one-and-one and Horgan hit the first shot of a double-bonus opportunity. Shooting 13-for-24, the Mounties didn’t give a masterful performance at the free throw line, but at least they got there much more frequently than Springfield, which finished five-for-seven.

The Cougars’ lack of chances at the line was due partly to a curious reluctance to drive to the hoop in the second half, even when the Magic had one player with four fouls (Smith) and two players with three apiece (Horgan and sophomore Bridget Higgins) on the floor at the same time.

As early as the third quarter, Springfield began to hold the ball at times, apparently trying to protect relatively slim leads. The Cougars did this with difficulty, since their ball-handling was not exactly rock-solid.

A neutral fan who arrived early for the subsequent boys playoff game had it pegged as a classic case of playing not to lose, rather than playing to win.

Still, situations arose in which the Cougars could show some initiative. After Horgan’s first free throw in overtime put the Mount up by three, Springfield’s McKenzie rebounded the errant second shot and went coast-to-coast to score. Burns converted off of an offensive rebound, and after the Mount’s Smith sank one of two foul shots, a baseline drive by McKnight gave Springfield a 36-34 lead with a minute to go.

Horgan was soon back at the foul line thanks to the double-bonus. Once more she made the first shot and missed the second, with the rebound going to McKenzie. Drawing a foul, the Springfield standout had the first shot of a one-and-one roll off the rim, and Smith gathered in the ball. Behind 36-35, the Magic came down the floor and called a time-out with 21 seconds left.

After another ten ticks, the Magic got the ball to Horgan just above the foul line, and as she drew defenders she passed the ball straight down the lane, assisting a lay-up by Smith. Springfield’s Burns committed her fifth foul on the play, and Smith made good on the freebie to put the 38-36 final score on the board.

Springfield did not appear to try to get the ball to McKenzie in the waning moments; instead the game ended with a failed baseline lay-up by one of the Cougars’ guards


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