The NEPA Elite Clark 17U girls team used two different offensive approaches to get through a pair of tight games and win its bracket today as The Challenge, a Select Events tournament, wrapped up at Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim Township, Lancaster County.
NEPA Elite shot 59 percent on 3-pointers while getting 39 points from beyond the arc in a 60-58 semifinal victory over City Rocks-Danzy before working into the paint for 31 points in a 48-47 triumph over the Empire State Blue Flames-Nick in the final.
With the victories, NEPA Elite improved to 4-1 for the weekend and 18-3 on the season. It has won 16 of the last 18 games with the two losses in that stretch coming by one and two points.
NEPA Elite 48, Empire State Blue Flames-Nick 47
Skylar Bianchi scored 13 points, Ciera Toomey blocked 5 shots and Clair Marion hit 2 key free throws to lead NEPA Elite to the victory in the final.
Bianchi had eight points in the first 6:18, helping the team out to leads of 10-0 and 12-2.
Toomey added to the inside game with eight points.
Bianchi and Toomey each finished with six rebounds and were a big factor in NEPA Elite controlling the boards early.
NEPA Elite grabbed eight of the game’s first nine rebounds, got seven of its first eight points off second chances and built its 10-0 lead with the help of a 14-4 advantage on the boards.
The lead grew as high as 40-25 with seven minutes left before Empire State hit back-to-back, 3-pointers to start a comeback that brought the Blue Flames within a point twice late.
Marion made both ends of a one-and-one with 21 seconds left for a 48-45 lead.
With the help of an offensive rebound, the Blue Flames had one shot each before and after a timeout with five seconds remaining. NEPA Elite had the 3-point line covered so well that neither Empire State attempt went for the tying points.
When Melannie Hastings, a 5-foot-10 guard from Hastings, N.Y. who is committed to Northwestern University, settled for a moving, foul line jumper just before the final buzzer, the shot fell through but the Blue Flames ran out of time.
Offensive rebounds were just part of a 31-10 advantage in points in the paint for NEPA Elite.
While NEPA Elite was expanding the lead from 3 to 15 in an eight-minute stretch early in the second half, the combinations of Rachael Rose-Cecelia Collins and Marion-Olivia Ciullo produced nearly identical plays. Rose and Marion came racing out of the lane with defensive rebounds, moving past Blue Flames until they created two-on-ones at the other end of the floor where they slipped passes across the lane to the sprinting Collins and Ciullo for layups.
When she wasn’t going 5-for-7 from the floor or grabbing one of her five offensive rebounds, Bianchi moved to the high post where she fired a pass to Toomey for another close-range basket.
Collins finished with seven points.
Kaeli Romanowski made both of her shots for five points along with half of the team’s six steals.
Marion, Ciullo and Kylie Lavelle each had all four of their points during the second half.
Moriah Murray led the team with three assists.
NEPA Elite 60, City Rocks-Danzy 58
Murray scored 17 points and singlehandedly produced one of two bursts of 3-pointers that helped build a nine-point lead before NEPA Elite held on late.
Toomey hit both ends of a one-and-one with eight seconds left to create a four-point lead and put NEPA Elite in a position to secure the win when it was able to safely in-bound the ball with two seconds remaining.
The team’s three starting guards – Murray, Rose and Collins – combined to shoot 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) on 3-pointers and 14-for-19 (73.7 percent) overall.
Rose added 14 points and a team-high 4 assists. She made all three of her 3-point attempts and was 5-for-6 from the floor.
Murray started 4-for-4 on 3-pointers, making them in a 4½-minute stretch in which she scored 14 points to turn a 7-7 tie into a 23-17 lead.
The next barrage of 3-pointers also started with the game tied, 28-28.
Marion hit a 3-pointer with 2:30 left in the half and Romanowski followed with another on the next possession as NEPA Elite scored six of the game’s next seven points while taking the lead for good.
NEPA Elite went 7-for-11 on 3-pointers between Marion’s first and a four-point play by Rose for a 53-44 lead with 6:49 remaining.
Rose had all three of her 3-pointers during that time, including one that created the game’s only other nine-point margin (46-37).
Marion hit another to open the second-half scoring. Murray and Romanowski had the other 3-pointers during that stretch.
The team finished 13-for-22 (59.1 percent) from long range.
Murray was 6-for-9 in the game and also had three assists while sharing the team steals lead of two with Lavelle.
Collins was 3-for-4 with seven points and three assists.
Marion was 2-for-3 on 3-pointers for her six points.
Romanowski, the team’s shortest player, was the leading rebounder with four.
As she did later in the final, Bianchi got the team out to a fast start. She converted Collins feeds into two baskets and Toomey hit a 3-pointer from the corner for a 7-0 start.
When the game got close late, Maria Belardi took care of much of the late-game ballhandling to protect the lead.
The game was tied just twice and City Rocks led for only 46 seconds late in the first half.
NEPA Elite also trailed for just 32 seconds of the first half in the final, which was tied only once.
Bianchi is a rising senior forward from Valley View.
Toomey, a sophomore, and Murray, a junior, are high school teammates at Dunmore.
Marion is an Abington Heights senior.
Rose, who is committed to the University of South Carolina Update, and Collins, who is headed to Bucknell University, are senior teammates at Scranton Prep where Belardi is a junior.
Ciullo is a senior from Old Forge.
Romanowski, from Western Wayne, and Lavelle, from Riverside, are juniors.
Exodus, the team that handed NEPA Elite its only loss of the weekend, won one of the other two bracket titles.