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Casey's foul shot secures Germantown Academy a share of Inter-Ac title | Andrew Robinson



PHILADELPHIA — Isabella Casey had plenty of time to not think about it.

A foul called as the horn sounded in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s de-facto Inter-Ac title game at Penn Charter was sending the Germantown Academy senior to the line with a chance to break a tie game. Around here, the officials, the scorer’s table and coaches were trying to figure everything else out, and all Casey was trying not to think about were those free throws.

Casey made one of two and it was enough to give GA a 63-62 win over the Quakers, securing the Patriots at least a share of the Inter-Ac title for the first time since 2019-20.

“I was trying to not think anything, just let go,” Casey said. “My teammates were all so supportive, they kept coming up like ‘you got this, you got this,’ but I was just trying not to think about anything. When I over-think, that’s when I’d miss.”

The only blemish on a wild back and forth ending came right after Penn Charter had tied the score 62-62. After PC’s Marleigh Jackson sank both free throws with 6.8 left to tie, Germantown Academy inbounded the ball with a Penn Charter player standing at the scorer’s table. 

As the table tried to get the official’s attention, the clock did not automatically start once the ball was put in play. The foul that sent Casey to the line was scored just before the horn sounded, the officials conferring and ultimately putting 0.5 back on the clock before she took the free throws.

It’s the first Inter-Ac title for any of the players currently on Germantown Academy’s roster, the league not crowning a champion in 2020-21 and Penn Charter having won the last two. Friday also didn’t totally wrap it up, GA travels to Notre Dame on Monday and a win by the Irish would not only give them a share of the title, but also invite PC back into the fold for a three-way split.

For the team’s three starting seniors - Casey, Sam Wade and Jess Aponik - garnering part of a league title was a quest fulfilled. They knew about all the Germantown Academy teams that preceded them who’d captured at least one Inter-Ac title in their time and did not want to be part of a class that left the program without their own.

“It was really big, especially because we’re seniors now,” Wade said. “I think people were doubting us. This is our last one together, we had to go out and win it.”

For Aponik and her twin sister Jenna, the first player off the bench all year, there was no masking what Friday’s clash really was.

“This was a championship game for us,” Aponik said. “We knew we had to get it done.”

For most of the night Friday, the Patriots couldn’t get out of their own way. GA committed 20 turnovers, missed seven free throws in the fourth quarter and gave a foul on a rebound 90 feet from the basket with 6.8 seconds left that allowed PC to tie it 62-62.

Some of that is on the Patriots and some of it goes to Penn Charter’s defense. The Quakers were everywhere, or seemed to be anyway, keeping GA out of its offensive sets, getting a tip or deflection on plenty of passes and stealing quite a few after doing that.

While it was something Germantown Academy prepared for, it was still extremely difficult to play against.

“We knew they were going to go on runs, they’re a great team with two of the best players around,” Casey said. “When we started throwing it away or they went on runs, we still had each other’s back. I think we were so supportive to each other and each timeout or each stoppage, we kept saying to each other that we got this.”

GA seemed to have figured things out midway through the second quarter when a pair of Jess Kolecki free throws spotted the visitors a 21-13 lead. Instead, Penn Charter closed the half on a 12-2 run and took a 25-23 lead to the break.

Kolecki and Gabby Bowes, the two juniors in the starting lineup, have been as much a part of this core as the seniors for the past three years. They’ve gone through it all together, so it seemed fitting the five starters all had at least 10 points on Friday.

“The way we work, we knew we were going to get it,” Wade said.

GA and PC just traded scores and momentum plays the entire second half. Bowes or Wade would hit a shot and Quakers junior Kaylinn Bethea would come right back with an answer. Casey would score and PC’s Ryan Carter would do something incredible to keep the Quakers in it.

Bethea scored 19, leaving her at 999 career points, adding five rebounds, two assists, three blocks and three steals. Carter had a game-high 20 points, the freshman adding six boards, three assists, two blocks and two steals while leaving the GA players three years older than her marveling at what her future will look like.

“Ryan, I couldn’t guard her,” Casey said. “She’s huge, she’s quick, she just finds ways to get her shot off.

“We’ve played against so many top players, but there’s really no one like her.”

GA led by seven at 52-45 with 3:22 left. Then, Carter scored, Jackson stole the ball off the inbound and found Bethea for a three to cut it back to two in no time.

After the Patriots pushed it back to six on three by Bowes that hit the iron, caromed straight up into the air and fell through, Penn Charter responded again. Even with an 11-game win streak snapped, Quakers coach Joe Maguire gave his players plenty of credit for not giving up in the final minutes.

“I wish we had that sense of urgency a little bit earlier, but Marleigh Jackson hitting those foul shots, Mia DiBenedetto didn’t hit a shot then hits a big three at the end, the girls kept fighting and fighting,” Maguire said. “We want to finish strong and go into the (PAISAA) tournament and see what we can do when we get there. The more we get to play together, the better.

“That’s our first loss in over a month, all we want to do is keep playing and extend the season as long as possible.”

Maguire also had praise for the packed-house crowd that provided the backdrop for the contest. Both sides had plenty of fans, every play drew some kind of reaction and what the Penn Charter coach thought was most important was that any younger girls in the seats got to see high level players on both teams giving their all to try and win a championship.

It wasn’t lost on the Patriots either.

“The crowd, we never get this,” Wade said. “That was the craziest game of our lives, I think.”

“We probably won’t play in an atmosphere like that again, honestly,” Casey said. Casey hadn’t had the best fourth quarter of her life. The senior was just 1-of-7 from the floor and only 4-of-8 at the line prior to her final trip to the line, but as much as she was trying not to think about those upcoming free throws, her teammates couldn’t think of anyone else they wanted taking them.

“She never misses foul shots,” Wade said.

“Well, I missed some today,” Casey replied.

“Hey, that’s fine,” Aponik finished.

GA coach Lauren Power had the same thought. The first-year Patriots coach, who also got her first share of an Inter-Ac title after coming over from Notre Dame last spring, spent most of the game trying to keep her team calm and its focus from straying amidst the mistakes it was making or being forced into by Penn Charter’s defense.

She also wouldn’t have picked anyone else to be there at the end with a chance to win the game.

“I knew it, I looked at her and said ‘you got this,’ all her teammates went up and said the same thing,” Power said. “She looked at me and I could tell she was going to make it.”

Casey made the first without a doubt. She missed the second, not intentionally, but she wasn’t thinking about that as the rest of her team surrounded her on the court in celebration.

“I’ll always remember that game,” Aponik said.

By Quarter
GA: 11 | 12 | 20 | 20 || 63
PC: 10 | 15 | 17 | 20 || 62

GA: Isabella Casey 17, Gabby Bowes 14, Jess Kolecki 10, Jess Aponik 10, Sam Wade 10 Jenna Aponik 2

PC: Ryan Carter 20, Kaylinn Bethea 19, Ashley Johnson 7, Marleigh Jackson 5, Liv Vieria 4, Laila Sharp 4, Mia DiBenedetto 3