By Tom Robinson, NEPA Elite News
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – While three other NEPA Elite girls teams participated in showcase games prior to the start of championship play and another began with competition within a pool, the championship pursuit for the Rini 17U team began on arrival at The Hoop Group Championship Weekend in Atlantic City.
The Rini team went right to work while playing in the 17U Gold Championship bracket.
After missing its first six shots, the Rini team did just about everything else right offensively, using a 42-point first half to run past the Hunting Park Warriors, 60-34.
Avery McNulty, Mia Blume and Chase Purdy all reached double figures in scoring by halftime and Claire Dougherty wound up with a team-high 14 points as NEPA Elite showed off a variety of offensive weapons.
Purdy’s three-point play off a reverse layup erased the only deficit and ended the 0-for-6 start.
Blume then jumped in, hitting four straight 3-pointers in a span of 4:38.
“I think we took shots when they were open, when they were the right shot,” said Blume, who only tried one more shot after the midway point in the first half. “We made the extra passes, got the rebounds when we needed for putbacks; we just did the extra things that were needed to score those points.”
McNulty took it from there with 11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in a 5½-minute outburst. She used a variety of inside moves against the taller Warriors, including 6-foot-5 Mikala Carter.
“When I got in there, I knew she was going to try to block my shot, so I just tried to go up strong,” said McNulty, who wound up with 13 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. “I tried to pump fake because she was flying right up. I also knew when I got it inside, I could pass it back out because it’s a little tough when there’s someone (6-5) on you and you’re about 6-foot.”
McNulty was a force on both ends, starting with a drive from the high post to the basket for a three-point play. It was the first of three times she drew fouls while shooting in 2:02. Within that stretch, she also grabbed three straight rebounds, two defensive and one for a putback, in a span of 46 seconds.
After checking in with the game tied, 7-7, McNulty sat back down with NEPA Elite in front, 40-16, less than 9½ minutes later.
Dougherty opened the second-half scoring with a step-back, 3-pointer and had 10 points in the half. She also had two of her three assists.
Blume scored 12 points while Purdy had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
NEPA Elite won the rebounding battle, 37-25.
“They had a really tall team, but we have a lot of physical girls on our team who are able to do that,” Blume said. “They all do it for their high school teams, so it wasn’t really a surprise for me.
“It was just that little extra hustle that helped us get the rebounds that we needed.”
Nadia Evanosky matched Dougherty for the team assist lead of three.
Rowan Murray made two steals.
Dougherty and Purdy are high school teammates at Lake-Lehman. Blume is from Dunmore, McNulty from Scranton Prep, Evanosky from Dallas and Murray from Honesdale.
NEPA Elite meets Rhode Island Basketball, one of four teams to receive a first-round bye, in the Round of 16 Sunday at 2 p.m.
With the Rini team (18-5) in contention, NEPA Elite will be trying to take both 17U titles on Championship Weekend for the second straight year.
When the organization debuted the Hoop Group Showcase League last year, the Clark 17U team won that title and the Genco 17U team won the Gold Bracket championship on the same weekend.
A recap of the other NEPA Elite girls games from Saturday:
Clark 17U (0-1)
The Clark 17U team will look for a fresh start when it opens its title defense Sunday following a 46-43 loss to the Syracuse Royals 2022-HGSL in a showcase game.
Syracuse shook off a slow start by using 10 offensive rebounds for a 20-12, first-half rebounding advantage and 26-21 halftime lead.
The Royals built the lead to 42-30 before NEPA Elite put together a comeback over the last six minutes.
Ciera Toomey started the rally with a 3-pointer and had three straight baskets in the last 2:09 to complete the 12-1 run to get within three.
Toomey finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
With the rest of the team combining to shoot just 8-for-33 (24.3 percent), Kylie Lavelle was the next-highest scorer with five points.
Lavelle also grabbed five rebounds and had two steals.
Olivia Smelas had four points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists. Anna Scoblick had four points and four rebounds.
Kaeli Romanowski made three steals in the last three minutes to help spark the comeback attempt.
Defense was prominent in building an eight-point lead in the first 6:35 before the rebounding problems became too much to overcome.
The Royals started 1-for-6 with seven turnovers.
Lavelle had a steal and blocked shot while NEPA Elite was taking a 12-4 lead. Smelas and Maria Belardi each had steals during that time and Toomey blocked a shot.
Following the slow start, Syracuse surged in front with four 3-pointers in two minutes and never trailed again.
Belardi finished with two blocks.
Toomey is from Dunmore, Lavelle from Riverside, Smelas from Jim Thorpe, Scoblick from Abington Heights, Romanowski from Western Wayne and Belardi from Scranton Prep.
Sheehan 16U (1-1)
For its showcase game before entering the tournament the 18-team 16U HGSL Championship bracket Sunday morning, the Sheehan 16U team drew the tournament’s top seed, the I-90 Elite Wright 2023-HGSL team from upstate New York.
NEPA Elite shot well in the first half with both teams relying heavily on 3-pointers and took a lead early in the second half before defensive pressure keyed an 18-0 run that allowed I-90 Elite to break the game open.
Cadie Lewis led the way for NEPA Elite with 13 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals.
Molly Murphy, Lexi Corby and Julia Glowacki each joined Lewis in hitting first-half 3-pointers on the way to finishing with seven, six and five points.
Anna Williams grabbed six rebounds.
The first eight I-90 shots were 3-point attempts.
Glowacki, Corby and Murphy hit their 3-pointers in a 9-1 run to a 19-17 lead and NEPA Elite finished the half 4-for-9 from long range.
The team’s other two first-half leads came when Williams opened the scoring with an inside basket and when Murphy made one of her two steals and sent a lead pass ahead to Lewis to make it 26-24 with 2:30 left.
Erin Van Ness helped give NEPA Elite another lead early in the second half when it scored the first four points for a 30-27 advantage.
Van Ness opened the second-half scoring on a drive, then bounced a pass through traffic to find Glowacki on a back-door cut.
I-90 forced nine turnovers and had three of its eight blocked shots while turning the game around with the next 18 points.
Corby, Williams and Van Ness are all from Tunkhannock. Lewis is from Dunmore, Murphy from Valley View and Glowacki from Crestwood.
Scoblick 15U (0-1)
The Scoblick team also had a showcase game before opening HGSL Championship bracket play Sunday morning.
The Lady Runnin’ Rebels 2024 National HGSL team handed the Scoblick team a 53-24 loss.
Mackenzie Perluke from Wyoming Valley West had nine points in the loss while Finley Bittenbender from Scranton added eight.
Butler 15U (1-1)
The Butler team started with 15U Gold Division Pool D play and went 1-1 through the first two of its three pool games.
NEPA Elite allowed just six first-half points in a 39-15 rout of Comets 2024-Peretta before falling 55-31 to Philly Heat North 2024, the only team in the pool to go 2-0 Saturday.
Elizabeth Viglone led the way in the win with 16 points.
Gabby Marsola and Mackenzie Schirg added six each.
The win was the 10th in the last 13 games for the team.
Viglone had 10 points and 8 rebounds, team-high totals in both, during the loss.
Marsola added nine points and Ella Cooper eight. Schirg had seven points and five rebounds.
Viglone is from Dallas, Marsola from Wyoming Valley West, Schirg from Lackawanna Trail and Cooper from Valley View.
Pool play concludes Sunday with a 4:30 p.m. game against New Jersey Shoreshots 15U Bennett/Leary.