Episcopal Academy falls despite Kilcullen’s late heroics

MALVERN — Episcopal Academy had clawed back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit in a Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association semifinal game Friday at Malvern Prep.

The Churchwomen could taste victory. Senior guard Maria Kilcullen was on fire and EA wanted nothing more than to end Shipley’s bid for a second straight PAISSA title.

Alas, EA couldn’t quite seal the deal. Lafayette-bound guard Nia Holland hit a clutch layup that gave Shipley a lead in the final minute as Episcopal suffered a season-ending 44-40 defeat.

“When the game was over, I felt like I could have done something else,’ said Kilcullen, who netted 14 points in her final game with Episcopal. “I feel like it doesn’t matter that you hit all your shots in the fourth quarter… you missed the one that would have counted and won the game.’

That’s just Kilcullen, a senior captain, showing maturity and responsibility like any great leader would. It certainly wasn’t her fault that Episcopal Academy couldn’t complete what would have been a remarkable comeback. Without Kilcullen’s fourth-quarter surge, EA likely would have lost to Shipley by double digits.

“I thought we had it,’ said Kilcullen, who made three consecutive baskets in the fourth quarter to give EA its first lead. “But they’re the type of team that has a lot of different threats, players who can really hurt you. ”

After Holland’s basket put Shipley in front, EA junior guard Dylan Higgins attempted a 3-point basket that was off the mark. Senior guard Meghan Pickell gathered the rebound and was fouled on her way to the hoop.

Trailing 42-40, Pickell’s first free throw rimmed out. Pickell purposely missed the second one with the idea that EA could get a quick putback, but Holland grabbed the defensive board and iced the Shipley win with a pair of free throws on the other end with 0.6 seconds to play.

“At that point we just had to crash the net and hope for something quick,’ EA coach Chuck Simmonds said.

“(Maria) did everything for us. She did the same (against Mercersburg) on Wednesday. She had 14 of her 21 points in the second half in that game and we just kind of rode it. It’s a shame. She feels bad … and she’s thinking about the turnover at the end instead of how good of a second half she had. That turnover could have happened anywhere. She has nothing to be ashamed about. It was my fault for not calling a timeout in that spot.’

Kilcullen nailed two of her four 3s and a 2-pointer during a rapid-fire sequence that saw the Churchwomen turn a 38-32 deficit into a 40-38 advantage. Before Shipley went back on top to stay, Episcopal had enjoyed a 15-2 run.

Higgins had a nice game. She scored 11 points and came through with a steal and an assist on a Margaux Paolino layup to pull EA within four points, 36-32. Elodie Furey had two key blocks in the second half as the sophomore power forward excelled on the defensive side of the ball.

In the first quarter, the Churchwomen (18-7) had difficulty stopping 6-4 center Martine Fortune. The Georgia Tech-bound senior had 14 of her game-high 16 points in the opening half as Episcopal went into the locker room trailing, 30-16.

“We were flat in the first half. Maybe it was because we were playing zone, but we didn’t have much of a choice. We saw they had struggled with it against Friends’ Central,’ Simmonds said. “Early on, I was hoping we would rebound better. They were getting inside on us and that left her open. Even the free-throw misses that she would get to, those are killers. She’s a tall kid and talented.’

Shipley faces Germantown Academy for the PAISSA title at Malvern Saturday at 9:30 a.m.

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