Westtown – There seems to be something special about the month of February that raises the level of play of the Shipley girls’ basketball team.
In four of the last six Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) annual state tournaments, the Gators have earned the championship plaque.
When the 2018 PAISAA tournament began the week of Feb. 12, the Gators emerged from the locker room at halftime of the second-round game against Friends’ Schools League foe Westtown, and seemed to find the chemistry they have been building throughout the year.
From that point on, everything clicked for Shipley (20-7), who rode the momentum to a dramatic PAISAA championship with a hard-fought 47-37 win over the Academy of Notre Dame in the championship final Feb. 24 at Westtown.
“I am very happy for this group,” said Shipley coach Sean Costello. “Each season is different. This year was about this team finding their identity. I believe we did that in our second-round state playoff game against Westtown. Once we found our way, we finished strong.”
Shipley junior Anna Camden, who finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, added, “This title means a lot. We played together and left everything on the court.”
While Shipley has become a fixture in the PAISAA title tilt, the Academy of Notre Dame (15-11) was making its first appearance in the finals since 2011 when they fell to Germantown Academy.
“This was a huge accomplishment for our team,” said McGurk, who finished with 12 points, three rebounds and two steals. “It was the first time since 2011 and first time in my career we made the finals. We worked hard all year, played a difficult schedule hoping it would pay off.”
Notre Dame head coach Mary Beth McNichol added, “Our kids have done everything we have asked of them. They battled all year, had great chemistry and I can’t say enough about this team.”
After Notre Dame fell behind 16-7 after one quarter, the tandem of juniors Mandy McGurk and Maggie Pina helped the Irish fight their way back into the game, slicing the Shipley lead to 22-18 heading into halftime.
As they have done all year, the Irish picked themselves up out of deficits and the final game of the season was no different.
Following intermission, McGurk and Pina picked up where they left off, sparking a 9-2 run to give the Notre Dame squad a brief 27-24 lead. Unfortunately, the lead did not last long, as Shipley held off a game Notre Dame squad, going 10-for-14 from the free throw line.
“All year we have faced deficits and all season we kept our calm and played our game,” said McGurk. “When we fell behind today, we just kept calm and played tough defense which sparked our offense.”
McNichol said, “When we fell behind we just told the team they had been there before and too keep fighting. We played great defense but unfortunately some open looks did not fall.”
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