SPRINGFIELD >> As a senior, you come into the season knowing that at some point, you’re going to play your final game with the team you spent the last four years with.
While the senior-laden Mount St. Joseph Academy team knows that time will eventually come, it’s going to do everything in its power to put it off for as long as possible.
That sense of urgency showed on Tuesday as the Mount narrowly escaped Merion Mercy in overtime 50-47 to advance to the quarterfinals of the District 1-5A playoffs.
“I think the five senior starters just realized we don’t want this to be it,’ said Julie Hoover, one of the Mount’s five senior starters. “Before that overtime period started we talked about how whatever happens, we don’t want this to be our last game. We’re playing for each other here, not just for ourselves and I think that helped us be more successful.’’
For most of the night, it didn’t look the Mount was going to have much of a reason to worry.
The Magic came out of the gates shooting lights out and led for basically the entire night. Senior Ashley Smith started the game by burying three 3-pointers in the opening period alone
“It (Smith’s hot start) definitely motivates us and I think it helps spread the defense out,’’ said Hoover. “When they start spreading out on defense like that it opens up the floor for Grace (Gelone) down low, it opens up the lane, and just makes it easier to play offense.’
Coming into the game, the Magic knew that their biggest challenge probably wouldn’t be on the offensive end. Rather, it would come on defense where they’d be tasked with stopping Merion Mercy’s dynamic scorer Jada Smith.
Smith, a 1,000-point scorer for her career, is a rare talent. At 5’10” she could play center if she wanted, but she just so happens to be the best ball handler on the court and an amazing finisher at the rim so she brings the ball up for the Golden Bears.
While Ashley Smith was raining 3’s from all over, Jada Smith was struggling to get hot early. She went 1-for-7 from the floor in the first quarter and watched as the Mount took a 13-8 lead.
Eventually, Jada Smith would find her stroke, as she finished with a game-high 20 points, but she spent most of the contest playing catch-up until the final quarter.
MSJ would be out in front for pretty much the whole night, with their lead reaching as many as nine points, but Merion Mercy hung around. Then, when the Magic went ice cold in the fourth, Merion took advantage of its opportunity and tied the game to force OT.
“This is a really resilient group and we showed it tonight,’ said Merion Mercy head coach Rob Baxter. ‘‘Even when we got down I wasn’t too worried about us, I think in the end we just missed a couple of 50-50 balls and some shots that ended up hurting us.’
It looked as though the Golden Bears would be able to get the win. Smith was outstanding in the second half and looked unguardable at times. Unfortunately, she cramped up and had to be taken out of the game in OT and while she came back in and competed at the end of the game, the little break she took was enough for the Mount to build a 5-point lead and advance to the next round of the District 1-5A playoffs.