As in 2022, top-seeded Westtown School met number two Penn Charter in the finals of this year's Pa. Independent Schools girls' basketball tournament.
As in 2022, top-seeded Westtown School met number two Penn Charter in the finals of this year's Pa. Independent Schools girls' basketball tournament. The two championship games would turn out to be very different, because while Westtown eked out a dramatic 51-50 victory over the PC Quakers a year ago, "close" was not a word you'd use to describe the teams' 2023 clash in the Indy Schools title bout last Sunday.
The Moose amassed a 21-4 lead in the opening quarter, and Penn Charter only scored one field goal in the first half. The Quakers played better in the second half and took advantage of some Westtown foul trouble, but the defending champs still held a comfortable double-digit advantage until the end, winning 74-54.
Penn Charter, the undefeated champions in the Inter-Ac League, had a 19-10 overall record at the end of a season that included a number of games against challenging out-of-state opponents. Friends Schools League champ Westtown was 16-3 after last weekend's PAIS victory.
Other independent school teams in the area also participated in postseason play.
Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, which finished sixth in the Inter-Ac, was engaged in the PAIS Commonwealth Cup, a tournament for teams that did not enter the main Independent Schools championships. Seeded third here, SCH defeated sixth-ranked Abington Friends School, 49-30, and then won a semifinal game, 62-45, over Barrack Hebrew Academy, the second seed.
In the other semifinal contest, number one seed Agnes Irwin ended the season of Germantown Friends, 47-27. In the finals, played on February 17 at Agnes Irwin, the host Owls defeated SCH, 50-36. The Blue Devils received a team-high 11 points from freshman Zoe Thompson.
In the main PAIS tournament, the top four seeds, Westtown, Penn Charter, Friends Central, and Germantown Academy, all received first-round byes and began play in the quarterfinal round.
Here, PC took down number seven George School, 62-39, while fourth-seeded GA recorded a convincing 60-37 win over the fifth-seed, the Academy of Notre Dame. GA and Notre Dame had split in their two regular-season meetings, and tied for second place in the Inter-Ac for the second year in a row.
In the other two quarterfinal games in the PAIS tournament, both Westtown and Friends Central won handily.
Back in the Friends Schools League championship game on February 10, Westtown trounced FC, 75-35. Penn Charter had beaten Friends Central in a much closer game in early December, 53-50. However, in another comparison with Westtown against a common opponent, New Jersey's Life Center Academy, Westtown lost to the Warriors, 89-80, while PC beat Life Center four days later, 67-63.
In the PAIS tournament semifinals, Penn Charter knocked out Friends Central, 53-40, with a balanced offense led by senior Aleah Snead, with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists, and classmate Bella Toomey, with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Kaylinn Bethea (nine rebounds) was also in double figures with 11 points, while senior Gracie Shoup (six rebounds, three assists) added eight points and 8th-grader Ryan Carter (seven rebounds, three assists) scored five.
Another 8th-grade high school starter, 6'1" Westtown forward Jordyn Palmer, rang up a game-high 22 points as the Moose won the other semifinal contest. Going ahead of GA 23-6 in the first quarter, Westtown went on to win, 69-33.
Next stop for the Quakers and the Moose was St. Joseph University's Hagan Arena, the venue for the PAIS championship game last weekend and the future home of the Quakers' Snead, who will play college ball for the Hawks.
After Westtown missed its first shot of the game, Penn Charter got a sampling of the aggressive in-your-face defensive pressure the Moose would apply during the first half. A shot clock violation by Charter resulted, and at the other end Zahra King, a guard from Brooklyn, N.Y. fired from the three-point loop on the left side of the floor, starting in on what would be a game-high, 23-point scoring effort.
Fouled a little over a minute into the bout, Charter's Carter hooped a pair of free throws to get the Quakers on the board. For the rest of the opening period, though, Westtown would outscore PC, 18-2. The eighth-grader for the Moose, Palmer, became the third player on her team to net a three-pointer as she struck from the right corner about three-and-a-half minutes in.
She would produce the rest of her early points from the paint, three field goals and two free throws for a total of 11 points in the first eight minutes.
It was 21-4 at the quarter, and at the start of the second frame PC committed its sixth team foul. Carter had been flagged for her second in the first period, and by halftime Shoup would have three personals. The Moose were not immune to the whistles of the refs, though; Palmer picked up her second foul before the middle of the second quarter and would have to sit out a spell.
With 1:51 remaining in the half, Bethea bagged the Quakers' first field goal of the afternoon, a "three" from the left corner. The tally was 36-12 at the half, when Palmer led all scorers with 13 points. King would only have five of her 23 in the book at that stage, and the Moose would need her increased output in the second half as they got deeper into foul trouble.
The Quakers would ultimately never escape the deep hole they dug themselves in the first half, but they played much better after the intermission, displaying considerably more poise under pressure. Early in the third period, Carter converted on a traditional three-point play, and then Bethea heated up with drives down the baseline and down the lane, and with a trey from the left wing.
On the other side, King came on for 10 points for Westtown, and by the end of the third chapter the Moose had modestly increased their lead, now up 57-31. With two minutes remaining in the period, they'd had to pull Palmer back off the court after she fouled PC's Carter for her fourth personal.
Toomey scored Penn Charter's last five points of the third period and also put up the first two points of the fourth quarter, hitting a transition lay-up off of a pass from Snead.
With production from Bethea and Carter, PC outscored its rival 14-6 over the first four minutes of the final round. In addition, Westtown's Palmer and senior starter Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick had both fouled out of the game during this stretch.
Charter's resurgence amped up the volume from the PC cheering section at one end of the court, but the fact would remain that the Quakers never got closer than 18 points to the leaders, and they had also lost Shoup to a fifth foul.
Carter would follow her to the bench with 1:33 left to play, and PC sent in subs for seniors Toomey and Snead, closing out their distinguished careers. This gave some freshmen the chance to make their way into the scorebook, as Natalia Modzelewski bagged a free throw in the final minute and Molly Dougherty beat the buzzer with a three-pointer from the top of the key.
Further up the Quakers' stat sheet, Bethea turned in a 19-point effort and Carter scored 15, while Snead and Toomey each posted eight points. For Westtown, King was joined in double figures by Palmer, with 13 points, and fellow eighth-grader Jessie Moses, with 10.