WHITEMARSH >> Rachel Balzer timed her run out past the 3-point line perfectly.
The Germantown Academy junior dragged her defender into the middle of the lane, where Alexa Naessens was waiting, got a screen from her senior teammate and sprung out past the arc. Cat Polisano made the pass as a Notre Dame defender, having been slowed by Naessens, tried in vain to close out.
It was too late, Balzer was too open and her 3-pointer ruffled nothing but net.
GA was far from its sharpest Tuesday, but the Patriots controlled the glass, played solid defense and overcame a slew of turnovers to top visiting Academy of Notre Dame De Namur 57-35 in Inter-Ac play. Balzer buried four 3-pointers and Elle Stauffer shot 8-of-8 from the floor, tying for a team-high 16 points.
“We’ve talked about it all season,” Balzer said. “Lex sets really hard screens, she’s the best screener on this team and in my mind, one of the best teammates I’ve had in setting screens. She always gets somebody open with her screens and it’s really nice to have that on a team.”
Stauffer was unstoppable early, scoring eight points and ripping down eight of her 11 rebounds in the first quarter, and reaching a double-double with 7:20 left in the second period. GA scored the first seven points of the game and led by 10 after the opening eight minutes, but had shown a couple of the uncharacteristic turnovers that would plague it all game.
Notre Dame drew a second foul on Stauffer with 7:03 left in the first half, sending the sophomore to the bench and stopping her rampage, but the Irish couldn’t do much to get their offense going. The Patriots knew they had to try and keep Magge Pina and Mandy McGurk in check and while the pair combined for 29 points, they didn’t do much damage from the 3-point line.
“We knew they were really good shooters but we didn’t know how all of us would step up to the task,” sophomore Jaye Haynes said. “We knew we would have to help and the amount of help and trust we had and gave each other was a really big part of it.”
Haynes, who has been a consistently strong contributor this season, scored 12 points and pulled down 10 rebounds of her own. Germantown Academy had a 40-15 edge in rebounding and had four blocked shots as a team, using its size as an advantage.
When the entire team rebounds strongly, like it did Tuesday, it only makes GA harder to deal with.
“I think it makes us 20 times better,” Haynes said. “Elle getting so many rebounds and us having a height advantage and often an advantage in speed, it’s almost like a triple-threat, we can dribble, pass, we can shoot. This has been a good year for us.”
The Irish got within 9-7 on a pair of Pina foul shots with 4:06 left in the first, but GA scored the next 10 points, bridging into the second frame and maintained a 10-point lead at the half, up 25-15. Balzer had seven at the break but came out firing in the third quarter, burying two treys in an 18-point Patriots quarter.
“I’m happy we’re getting the wins and it’s in the team’s best interests to get the ball to whoever is open,” Balzer said. “I’m just trying to keep myself involved in the game by giving the open person the ball, trying to play good defense and stay locked in.”
Both Haynes and Balzer felt the team’s turnovers were a result of players getting a little to over-eager to do something with the ball. GA thrives playing with a high tempo and Haynes said they need to be a little more mindful to not rush passes because they can still score in regular offensive sets.
The Patriots have built a good chemistry on both ends of the floor and it showed on Tuesday. Sure, there were a few possessions where GA tried to make one pass too many, but they routinely created open shots. Balzer, who has given a verbal commitment to George Mason, shot 6-of-10 and had plenty of space on most of her attempts.
“We worked on running our plays through and not just taking the first quick shot,” Balzer said. “We sometimes rush our shots, and it’s better for us when we move the ball and find the open person for the best shot.”
GA’s bench also got a chance to shine on Tuesday, with six reserves getting playing time. Maddie Burns and Caitlyn Priore helped fill the minutes after Stauffer’s second foul, Sarah Dilello was able to spell Polisano at point guard and Lindsay Putnam brought more rebounding from the guard spots.
Haynes said the team’s depth is a huge asset, with the reserves constantly pushing the starters in practice and delivering when they’re asked to step into games. Aside from Naessens, Polisano and Balzer, the rest of the roster is sophomores or freshmen.
“Communicating was really key in this game and we did well with that,” Balzer said. “We try to encourage them to communicate and they’re getting better with it every day. I think as underclassmen, it’s not their go-to to be vocal and communicate so it’s up to us as upperclassmen to help them with that.”
GERMANTOWN ACADEMY 17 8 18 14 – 57
NOTRE DAME 7 8 14 6 – 35
GA: Elle Stauffer 8 0-2 16, Rachel Balzer 6 0-0 16, Cat Polisano 1 1-2 3, Jaye Haynes 5 2-2 12, Alexa Naessens 3 0-2 6, Sarah Dilello 0 2-2 2, Becca Booth 1 0-0 2, Caitlyn Priore 0 0-2 0. Nonscoring: Lindsay Putnam, Maddie Burns, Julia Johnson. Totals: 24 5-12 57
ND: Mandy McGurk 5 1-2 11, Caitlyn Mullen 2 2-2 6, Maggie Pina 5 7-8 18. Nonscoring: Allie Lynch, Emma Kichala, Riley Griffin, Mikayla Dever. Totals: 12 10-12 35
3-pointers: GA – Balzer 4, ND – Pina
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