WYNCOTE >> A determined Maggie Pina spoke of her team’s feelings upon returning to Cheltenham High, site of last year’s heartbreaking state-playoff loss to Upper Dublin.
“We were not losing here two years in a row,” Pina said after the Patriots’ impressive showing against Mount St. Joe’s Saturday. “We practiced hard all week. We were ready and we watched film. We weren’t going to lose.”
Pina and the Patriots jumped out to a 21-point first-half lead and left little doubt that this year’s states experience would be far different, as Archbishop Carroll shot its way to a 53-35 victory over the Magic in the opening round of PIAA-5A action.
Carroll advances to Wednesday’s Second Round, to take on Harrisburg, a 56-40 winner over West Chester Rustin.
The Patriots came out firing — and hitting, with three different players connecting from three-point range to help build a commanding lead.
Crisp ball movement and an ability to find the open shot led to eight first-quarter points from Bella Sorrentino, including a pair of threes, and nine more from Pina, who also hit a pair from deep.
“A lot of us go and shoot at gyms before we come,” Pina said coolly, “so we were ready to come and shoot and score.”
“They’re a tall team so we had to bring up our energy right away,” said Molly Masciantonio, another shooter the Magic had to worry about. “We practice looking at the open girl and moving the ball. In the beginning of the year, we had struggled with that.”
Now it’s a team strength, and with Carroll was also controlling the boards, Theresa Kearney split two defenders to get inside for a rebound and putback, helping to inflate the margin to 22-5 by the end of the first.
Pina’s one-handed runner off the glass gave the Patriots their biggest lead of the first half, 26-5, but then Mount came to life.
Grace Gelone battled inside and got to the foul line for nine free throws in the first half, sinking all nine of them for part of her 15 points — the game high to that point.
Gelone’s drive brought the Magic within 28-15 midway through the second, completing a 10-2 run.
Carroll’s defense then returned to its turnover-creating form, a steal and layup by Masciantonio enabling the Pats to stretch the lead back to 32-15, another layup by her moments later making it a 19-point game.
“We played them before so we knew what we had to do, what players we had to stop,” said Sorrentino, whose team won over the Magic in the regular season.
The Magic did close out the first half with a three by Lauren Vesey, trimming the gap to 37-22 at the break.
But Carroll (19-5) stifled comeback hopes in the third quarter, scoring in transition and pushing the lead to 19. With six minutes to go in the fourth, another three by Masciantonio made it 48-29 Carroll, putting the Pats in position to close out.
Sorrentino had a game-high 21, Pina had 13 and Masciantonio added 10 as Carroll surpassed last season’s first-round exit. Cheltenham was a house of horrors last year for the Patriots, this year a shooter’s gallery.
“This year,” Masciantonio said, “we want it a lot more.”
Saturday marked the end of an impressive run for a Mount team with plenty to build around in the coming seasons. Gelone, a senior, finished with 15 points for the Magic (13-15).
“It’s fun to see her shimmy underneath the hoop and you’re like ‘oh she’s got this,’” coach Claire Perry said. “It was fun to see her come through at the end. We’re gonna focus on the journey and focus on the fact that not a lot of people thought we were gonna be here.
“It was fun to see (guard) Lauren Vesey, our freshman, play full-court on defense so moving forward we have the effort, hustle, the athleticism. Carroll’s really good, and I’m excited to see where they go in the tournament.”