The quest for the 2024 title slipped back into a three-way round-robin as Penn Charter defeated Germantown Academy.
Late last week, there was a chance that a clear leader could emerge in the chase for the 2024 Inter-Ac League girls' basketball championship, but longtime observers of this very competitive conference felt this wasn't likely to happen.
The quest for the 2024 title slipped back into a three-way round-robin as visiting Penn Charter, the defending champs, defeated Germantown Academy 61-58 last Thursday, giving each team a 3-1 mark. The Academy of Notre Dame, which had lost to GA and had beaten PC earlier in the month, thumped Baldwin School, 63-30, in another Thursday contest. The Irish, who've played more Inter-Ac games, rose to 5-1.
Last week at GA, the Patriots led most of the way, ahead at the end of each of the first three quarters. The Quakers edged ahead by one point in the second quarter and again midway through the fourth, but they didn't take the lead for good until the final minute.
It was an important win for Charter; finishing the first round of league games with two losses would cast a shadow over any championship hopes.
Junior guard Kaylinn Bethea was well aware of this.
"We focused on it all week," she noted. "This was a game that could get us right back in it in the Inter-Ac."
Bethea, who scored 16 points, and her backcourt colleague, freshman Ryan Carter (with a game-high 28), are both very quick and athletically gifted, and they can be an incendiary force on offense.
Other Quakers had their moments, contributing to the cause at just the right time. Freshman Laila Sharp came off the bench for five points in the second quarter, helping PC stay close. Senior starting forward Ashlie Johnson had four points through most of the game, and then with 50 seconds left she twisted and tugged for an offensive rebound and went back up to score, putting PC up, 59-58.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, freshman starter Mia DiBenedetto scored her three points for the day on a shot from the left wing that nudged the Quakers ahead briefly, 52-51. Sophomore Liv Vieira also weighed in with a trey during the final period.
Penn Charter would use seven players over the course of the afternoon, while GA would stick with its primary six-player rotation.
GA seniors Izzy Casey and Jessica Aponik battled for 17 points apiece.
Their classmate Sam Wade kicked off the scoring on a drive, and then Casey scored the lone three-pointer of the day for GA (PC had six). PC climbed back into a 9-9 tie. On an early drive, Carter blew past a GA defender up high, but committed a charge against another Patriot behind her.
As Bethea recounted, "We saw from film that GA plays a high two-three [zone defense], and we've struggled with that in other games. We focused on shifting the ball around and finding that cutter in the middle."
Back-to-back transition baskets by Aponik and two free throws by Casey ended the first period with a 19-10 GA lead, then Aponik's twin sister, Jenna (nine points) led off the second with a drive. The Pats led by 11, but less than a minute later the gap was only four points. First Carter hit a "three", then two steals led to lay-ups by Bethea and Sharp.
When Germantown again led by 11 in the third quarter, the Quakers quickly cut into the lead once more, taking advantage of momentary lapses in GA's vigilance. The Patriots seemed like a snake charmer who bemuses a cobra, but then loses focus for an instant, allowing the snake to strike.
After Charter gained its 52-51 edge in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Pats went back up by four on a drive by Casey and a free throw and follow-up shot by Jenna Aponik. From the foul line, the Quakers got two points from Bethea and one from Johnson to make it a one-point game, and Jessica Aponik and Carter traded baskets for a 58-57 tally. However, Jess Aponik then fouled out of the game, with one minute and 11 seconds to go.
After Johnson scored the go-ahead basket for Penn Charter, each team missed a shot. The PC miss was rebounded by the Quakers' Vieira, though, and that led to Carter making two foul shots and nailing the final score to the board with 14.2 ticks remaining.
GA called time-out at that juncture and again with five seconds remaining, but was unable to score.
During the late time-outs, Bethea related, "We talked about staying disciplined and not reaching in, because we had five [team] fouls and we didn't want to put them at the line."
Bethea, highly recruited by college programs, plans to make her choice by the end of her junior year.