By Tom Robinson, NEPA Elite News
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Nadia Evanosky had a different plan when the ball came to her in overtime of the Hoop Group Gold Division Championship Bracket semifinal Monday.
When the defense closed that path, Evanosky improvised.
And, hit the game-winning shot.
Evanosky’s 3-pointer accounted for the only scoring of overtime and lifted the NEPA Elite Rini 17U girls team to a 49-46 victory over New Jersey Belles-Truhan on the final day of the Hoop Group Championship Weekend at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
“I was just looking to get the ball to Claire (Dougherty) inside,” Evanosky said. “But, then I saw I was wide open and I thought ‘if I don’t shoot this, it’s not a smart decision.’
“So, I shot and it fell. Thank God it went in.”
Evanosky connected from the left corner with 1:14 left. She got the ball in the same spot in the final minute with another open look, but wisely passed it up as NEPA Elite effectively protected the ball while being fouled four times between 34.6 seconds and 16.0 seconds left.
“I was only looking for the layup then,” Evanosky said. “It would not have been a smart decision.”
The Belles finally forced a turnover with 11.7 seconds remaining, but missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer.
Evanosky would not take credit for the team’s most exciting win of the season, pointing out that Megan Desmet’s game-winning 3-pointer with six seconds left in the second overtime at Spooky Nook last week rivaled the championship semifinal winner for drama.
The shot by Evanosky sent NEPA Elite to the championship game, but the Rini team fell short there and wound up settling for second place out of 28 entries in the Gold Division Championship Bracket at the Hoop Group Championship Weekend.
The 4-1 effort over three days at the Convention Center wrapped up a 21-6 season for the Rini team, which never lost more than once in any of the six events it entered.
“Since March, each player has gotten better,” coach Jess Rini said. “Our chemistry went from where we had none – we wouldn’t even talk to each other after a practice – to, I think, we have meshed so well together. I wish we had another tournament to show that.
“This weekend, they played the hardest they ever played and everyone contributed. It was constant. They were hungry.”
Evanosky’s game-winner was her only basket of the game, but it was the team’s seventh 3-pointer.
Claire Dougherty was the top scorer with 14 points while Mia Blume added 12 on four 3-pointers that fueled a comeback from a 21-15 deficit late in the half.
Chase Purdy joined them in double figures with 10 points, scoring the basket in the final minute that forced overtime.
“It was a guard’s game,” Rini said. “The guards really stepped up. Nadia hit that big shot and it was her defense and Meg’s defense that really kept us in that game.”
Dougherty helped put the guards in position to lead the way.
“They started double-teaming her and she was recognizing that and then kicking it back out,” Rini said.
Blume hit two 3-pointers in the last two minutes of the first half to cut the deficit to 23-21 at the break and set up a tight game in the second half.
Desmet opened the team’s second-half scoring with a 3-pointer and Blume hit another for the lead with 12:03 to go.
Chase Purdy took a charge, then scored on the other end, completing a 14-4 run to the lead at 29-25.
After the Belles scored the next four points for a tie, Dougherty had six straight NEPA Elite points for a 35-31 advantage.
Blume’s last 3-pointer, with 7:45 left, created the first of a trio of five-point advantages for NEPA Elite at 38-33.
Back-to-back baskets by Dougherty and Purdy made it 42-37 with five minutes left and a Blume rebound led to Dougherty’s last basket for a 44-39 lead.
The Belles scored seven straight points to move ahead late, before Purdy forced overtime where Evanosky won it.
Comets 2022 forced NEPA Elite out of its offensive rhythm and turned the championship game into a 57-27 rout.
“The final, we weren’t playing like ourselves,” Rini said. “We got sped up and didn’t run our sets. We didn’t play our basketball. We played too fast. I tell them all the time, ‘you can push the ball without being too fast’.
“There’s a difference between being too fast and being a fast team.”
Avery McNulty gave NEPA Elite a fast start with a 3-pointer on the game’s opening possession.
The Comets, a Philadelphia team that is the only Under Armour Association club in eastern Pennsylvania, took the lead for good with five straight points for a 10-5 advantage.
A streak of 14 straight points opened the lead to 24-8 on the way to a 31-12 lead at the half.
Dougherty and Rowan Murray led NEPA Elite, each finishing with six points and six rebounds to share the team leads in both categories.
Purdy and Dougherty are high school teammates at Lake-Lehman. Evanosky is from Dallas, Desmet from Wallenpaupack, Blume from Dunmore, McNulty from Scranton Prep and Murray from Honesdale.
Kallie Booth from Pittston Area, Katherine Shepherd from Western Wayne and Chloe Lyle from Honesdale were the other team members.
“Each individual player got better during the season,” Rini said.
Combined with the Clark 17U team that won the Platinum Division title, the Rini team helped NEPA Elite go 44-13 on the 17U girls level this season.
Title repeat: Read how the NEPA Elite Clark 17U girls defended their Hoop Group Showcase League title. https://nepasportsnation.com/nepa-elite-girls-repeat-hgsl-title/.