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Germantown Academy’s collective effort enough to outlast North Penn

TOWAMENCIN >> Each time North Penn got close, Germantown Academy had an answer.

Whether it was a stop, a rebound, a crisp pass or a score, the Patriots kept finding a way to keep the Knights a basket or two away from ever completing their attempts to rally Tuesday night. This wasn’t a one-time occurrence, not with North Penn refusing to wilt and coming every time Germantown Academy looked to be pulling away.

GA’s unselfish offense and timely defensive stops were enough to get past the energetic Knights 60-57 in North Penn’s season debut.

“Our defense was really strong,” Patriots guard Sam Wade said. “We stayed composed, we we’re getting face-cut, we stayed locked down and we got rebounds. We were active and our steals were a great help tonight.”

Over the weekend, GA had its eyes opened in a pair of losses to some extremely strong national competition at the COBRAS United Tip-Off Classic down in the Washington, D.C. area. Back in the relative comfort of their home state, the Patriots soon found themselves in for a battle against a Knights team ready to build off the strides it made last season.

Back-to-back threes by Abby Plaugher and Caleigh Sperling put NP ahead 6-2 early and the long ball would be a theme for the Knights, who knocked down 11 treys in the contest. Plaugher, a senior co-captain who committed to play at Salisbury earlier this school year, was a catalyst with 24 points and six 3-pointers and earned the full attention of GA’s defense in the second half.

For second-year coach Brianna Cullen, the effort was exactly what she’s hoping to see out of a young but talented group.

“It shows we want to compete and we want to be great,” Cullen said. “They have a ton of size, I think we adjusted pretty well because they have such a strong inside game. There were lapses but overall, I think we stepped up and our smaller guards realized they had to play a big player’s game.”

Germantown Academy used its passing to take the lead for good in the first quarter. The Patriots dished an assist on the last six baskets they scored in the quarter, a 6-0 spurt keyed by two post scores from senior Kendall Bennett put the visitors up 15-11 after eight minutes with a lead they would have to work pretty hard to maintain the rest of the way.

While the Patriots moved the ball extremely well, racking up 15 assists, the Knights were just as selfless with 11 assists and the hosts often made the extra pass to find an open shooter for a three that put more pressure back on GA. North Penn and Germantown Academy essentially traded baskets in the second quarter, with GA getting a couple finishes around the rim or in the mid-range only for the Knights to respond with a three, the hosts hitting eight outside shots before halftime.

“I want to capitalize and grow, take the lessons we learned last year and take on some new challenges,” Cullen said. “We have a tough road ahead of us, but I think we’re set up to be successful to run our program and run our style of basketball.”

Bennett led GA (1-2) with 21 points, the Binghamton recruit taking advantage inside with her teammates setting her up for some post scores, and added 10 rebounds, a couple blocks and a few other shots altered with her presence. It was a balanced effort around her, with Jess Kolecki, Isabella Casey and freshman Addison Levensten all scoring eight, Gabby Bowes going for seven and Wade adding six.

The Patriots also combined for seven steals and blocked five shots and needed pretty much all of them. With the core of the team now in its third year together, GA is looking for big things this winter. Wade, who is assuming more of a point guard role this season, is eager to see what the group’s collective efforts can yield.

“I think we can win the Inter-Ac and win (PAISAA),” Wade said. “We had a really great shot last year and we’ve grown so much as a team, we’re just so much closer, I think we definitely have a really good chance.”

Plaugher, who was also part of the Knights’ soccer program, has been a four-year contributor for the Knights and a good outside shooter. Now, as the team’s lone senior with any significant experience, the North Penn (0-1) coaches are asking the guard to be a little bit more than just a shooter and Plaugher responded on Tuesday, hitting an efficient 9-of-12 from the floor, dishing a couple assists and pestering the ball on defense.

“I’m looking for her take a big step ahead in leadership,” Cullen said. “We know she’s a talented player so we’re really challenging her to be a true senior both on and off the court.”

GA opened up a 10-point lead with 5:02 left in the third quarter but just as it seemed they were poised to break away, North Penn rallied back to get withing three, then two and finally one on a Plaugher bucket just before the quarter break to make it a 46-45 game. Casey came up with a steal, a layup and an assist on a Gabby Bowes three – the only outside shot the Patriots had – and Bennett split a pair at the line to temporarily open some space.

Stone and Sperling again helped North Penn cut the lead to three, Aponik made a great bounce pass to Levensten to beat the press with 50 seconds left then Plaugher converted an offensive rebound to make it 60-57 with 21 seconds left. The Knights got a break when GA missed a one-and-one and lost the rebound out of bounds, giving the hosts a look to tie.

Instead, the Patriots defense swarmed the ball and forced a traveling violation and despite missing another one-and-one, they didn’t allow North Penn to even get a look at a desperation heave at the buzzer to seal the win.

“We’ve played so hard as a team these first couple games and I know we’ve gotten so much better,” Wade said. “I really appreciate how hard everyone has been working and I can’t wait for that to lead us to a great season.”

Germantown Academy 60, North Penn 57

GERMANTOWN ACADEMY 15 19 12 14 – 60

NORTH PENN 11 17 17 12 – 57

GA: Jess Kolecki 4 0-0 8, Isabella Casey 4 0-1 8, Sam Wade 3 0-0 6, Gabby Bowes 2 2-4 7, Jess Aponik 0 2-2 2, Kendall Bennett 8 5-8 21, Addison Levensten 4 0-0 8. Totals: 25 9-15 60

NP: Cameron Crowley 1 0-0 2, Emily Orth 1 0-0 3, Caleigh Sperling 5 4-4 16, Abby Plaugher 9 0-0 24, Liv Stone 4 0-0 10, Leah Mikulski 1 0-0 2. Totals: 21 4-4 57

3-pointers: GA – Bowes; NP – Plaugher 6, Sperling 2, Stone 2

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