By John Knebels and Angelise Stuhl
The 2017 regular season has come to an end for the Philadelphia Catholic and Inter-Academic Leagues boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, with the PCL wrapping up their finals at the historic Palestra on Feb. 27.
The PCL culminates its regular season by a series of intense playoff games that ultimately leads to a celebratory plaque bestowed to the boys’ and girls’ champions.
The Inter-Ac, boys’ and girls’ champions are finalized outright by the teams’ that end the season with the best overall league records. See below for a final review:
Archbishop Wood – PCL Boys’ Champions
In front of a packed house at the Palestra, Wood defeated Neumann-Goretti 65-58 to take home the school’s first ever boys’ basketball title in its 51 years of existence.
After trailing the Saints 31-18 at the half, Wood senior Collin Gillespie helped the Vikings spearhead one of the most memorable comebacks in recent Catholic League history. Gillespie, a Villanova University commit, scored six points in the third quarter and an astonishing 16 in the decisive fourth to finish with 24 points and seven assists.
Wood junior, Tyree Pickron, drained three three-point shots in the third quarter, and senior Matt Cerruti contributed 10 points during the same eight-minute span, turning the 31-18 disaster into a shocking 43-41 lead.
After a pair of free throws by N-G senior Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (11 rebounds, eight points), Gillespie swished another trey, to put Wood up, 49-47, with 4:18 remaining and scored again on a driving layup with 1:40 left, pushing Wood’s lead to a game-high seven at 57-50 – ultimately leading the Vikings to victory.
Cerruti insisted that he never wavered in his belief that the Vikings would stage a furious comeback.
“I think the whole entire game we never felt out of it,” said Cerruti, who totaled 15 points in the PCL final. “We still believed in each other. We kind of kept pushing. Everyone has full confidence in each other, so we kept going. When you believe in each other, that stuff happens.”
Cardinal O’Hara – PCL Girls’ Champions
Cardinal O’Hara entered the Palestra as underdogs, and left as PCL champions. The Lions took the court against defending PCL champs, Archbishop Wood, claiming a 35-30 victory.
The Lions led the Vikings throughout most of the game but O’Hara’s resolve was about to be tested to the max late in the fourth quarter.
A three-pointer by Vikings junior Bridget Arcidiacono, a steal by senior Meg Neher, and a driving basket by junior Katie May tied the game at 27-27 with 3:40 remaining. With nerves aplenty, the Palestra rocking, and a clear feeling of a major momentum change, O’Hara answered when Kenzie Gardler fed senior Lauren Leicht for what proved to be the last lead change at 29-27 with 2:50 left. Gardler then connected on a free throw with 1:02 left to make it 30-27, but the undaunted Vikings scored via a Cassie Sebold bank shot.
In the closing minute, O’Hara senior point guard and Drexel University signee Hannah Nihill punctuated a magnificent 13-point effort by making three of four throws to put her team in front, 33-30, with 25 seconds left. A missed three by Wood and a subsequent pair of perfectly tossed free throws by an ice-princess-like Hendrixson with seven seconds left sealed the deal.
“I feel ecstatic,” said Hendrixson. “I had to make one of those free throws (to make it a two-possession game), so when the first one went in, I was relieved. I knew it was over. This feels like a dream come true.”
Germantown Academy & Episcopal Academy – Inter-Ac Girls’ Champions
In their initial meeting on Dec. 13, Episcopal topped Germantown Academy 56-49. On January 24 at Germantown Academy, their rematch occurred. This time, the Patriots handed the Churchwomen a 52-42 loss. Rachel Balzer led GA on the floor with 25 points and Elodie Furey led the Churchwomen with a game-high of 29 points.
Both teams finished on top of Inter-Ac standings with 10-1 league records. Going forward, the two powerhouses met again in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) tournament semifinals, in a game that went into two overtimes. Luca Mamula led the Churchwomen on the floor totaling 16 points, while senior Elodie Furey followed with 12pts. Freshman guard, Jaye Haynes, scored a buzzer-beater sending both teams into the first OT and scored again tying the game 47-47 to send both teams into a second OT. From there, Balzer hit a long three-pointer at the buzzer to win it for the Patriots 52-49.
The Patriots went on to place second overall in the PAISAA tournament after losing a close battle to Shipley 52-47.
“I’ve never been a part of a program where the drive for excellence is in the veins of every player on this team,” said Patriots head coach, Sherri Retif.
Germantown Academy & Episcopal Academy – Inter-Ac Boys’ Champions
For a tie to have occurred, GA had to defeat a hot Malvern Prep team and an undefeated Haverford squad in their final games – they did just that. GA pulled a Lazarus act, emerging from the depths of a 19-point deficit to defeat Malvern Prep.
“I believe I can speak for the whole team and say there was an angel watching over us against Malvern on that Tuesday. And that angel was not going to let us lose,” said GA senior and First-Team All-Inter-Ac Evan-Eric Longino. “Rest in Peace, Mr. (Peter) McVeigh (long-time teacher and community stalwart at GA). Thank you for everything you’ve taught not only me, but our whole program. Your spirit will continue to live on throughout all of our lives in the future.”
Four nights later, the Pats ruined Haverford School’s perfect 5-0 season with an epic 100-98 triumph that necessitated an 11-point, fourth-quarter GA comeback and five overtimes to determine a winner.
In the penultimate game of the regular season, GA visited Episcopal. A win by the hosts would basically secure an outright Inter-Ac title; a victory by GA would create a first-place tie with the Churchmen. In arguably their most impressive performance of the season, GA defeated Episcopal, 54-50. This marked EA’s first Inter-Ac title since 2006.
In post season play, GA fell to Westtown 71-53 in the PAISAA semifinal. EA escaped a close battle with the Hill School 59-58 to land in the PAISAA final against the top-seeded Moose, who defeated the Churchmen 64-49.
“At the end of the day, I know everyone is very happy with the outcome of the season. Episcopal hasn’t had a championship since ’06 with Wayne (Ellington) and (current Philadelphia 76er) Gerald (Henderson), so this was really big for the program and for the school,” said EA senior Kyle Virbitsky.