By Tom Robinson, NEPA Elite News
EAST STROUDSBURG – Ciera Toomey found herself at the center of attention Saturday in the Hoop Group’s Pennsylvania Showcase.
Toomey responded by leading the NEPA Elite Clark 17U girls team in scoring during a pair of victories that sent the team into the 17U Legacy Championship Bracket semifinals.
The Clark team, one of three NEPA Elite squads to win its pool, got bracket play started with a 66-40 quarterfinal win over Connecticut Attack Garcia HGSL at night.
But, it was the afternoon game to complete pool play that put Toomey, a 6-foot-3, all-state high school player from Dunmore, and her status as one of the nation’s top recruits in the Class of 2023 in the spotlight.
The 42-36 Pool A victory over the New Jersey Demons HGSL team matched Toomey against Tabitha Amanze in a game featuring two players that ESPN lists as among the 15 unsigned women’s basketball Prospects to Watch this Summer.
In a separate report, Toomey was listed as ESPN-W’s 14th best prospect in the Class of 2023 while Amanze, a 6-foot-4 forward from Blair Academy was ranked 36th in the Class of 2022.
Toomey scored 10 points while 6-foot-2 Kylie Lavelle, a Drexel University commit from Riverside, had 8 points and a team-high 9 rebounds as NEPA Elite stood up to a persistent inside challenge to beat the Demons.
“I’ve never seen a team try to hit the paint as much as they did,” coach Kevin Clark said. “They only took one 3-pointer and that was at the end on a Hail Mary. Otherwise, it was all dribble drives and post-ups. I think we did a good job adjusting to that with our defensive schemes and we were able to convert on the offensive end as well.”
Moriah Murray, Toomey’s current high school teammate at Dunmore and Lavelle’s future teammate Drexel, was a big part of that. Murray scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds and had a team-high four assists.
On the defensive end, Kaeli Romanowski had three steals while Maria Belardi had two blocked shots and two steals.
Toomey also had two blocked shots in a game played with even more eyes than usual focused on her. Hoop Group produced a nearly two-minute highlight video of the game, with a concentration on the Toomey-Amanze matchup, for its Twitter account at https://twitter.com/hgsl_girls/status/1403817940286312451.
“She’s going into a lot of these games with a target on her back,” Clark said. “People are starting to understand and know who she is and they’re out there trying to prove themselves against her. But, I think Ciera has the ability to just kind of humble herself and play her game and I think that throughout the day with all the competition that’s at this tournament, she was able to handle herself very well.”
Toomey followed up that effort by scoring 14 points in the first 5½ minutes to help NEPA Elite open a 17-4 lead in the first game of bracket play in the pursuit of the event’s most prestigious title.
“She was unbelievable,” Clark said.
Toomey had plenty of help and similar to the team’s Friday opener, NEPA Elite followed a strong start with a big late flurry in a game that had become more competitive.
Lavelle, Murray and Belardi combined on a sequence that began a game-breaking, 13-point streak with 11 minutes remaining.
Connecticut had closed within 36-31 before Lavelle hit a 3-pointer from the left wing. Murray then came up with a steal in the backcourt and fed Belardi for a layup less than 10 seconds later.
Lavelle had seven points in the 13-0 run, going high for an offensive rebound that she turned into a 5-footer from the right side, then converting another Murray assist. A Toomey low post move and a Murray drive off another second chance created by an offensive rebound were also part of the streak.
The 13 straight points sparked what became a 30-6 run prior to the game’s final basket by the Attack.
Belardi, who had hit two 3-pointers in the first game of the day, capped the run with a 3-pointer. That completed an effort in which she scored five points, again blocked two shots and shared the team assist lead of five with Murray.
“I think this is going to be a big summer for Maria,” Clark said. “I think she did a great job facilitating. Her basketball IQ is high enough to understand that if her shot’s not falling, she’s going to find other ways to affect the game, meanwhile not get discouraged within her shots and still take open ones.
“She’s such an asset with her speed, her defensive knowledge and abilities and she’s really a great joy to coach on the team.”
Toomey finished with 18 points and 5 rebounds.
Anna Scoblick had 6 points in the 30-6 run and finished with 10 points. She also made a pair of steals during the run.
Lavelle had nine points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Leila Hurley had eight points and Olivia Smelas grabbed eight rebounds.
Murray and Romanowski joined Belardi in scoring five points and making other contributions. Murray made a team-high four steals to go along with her five assists. Romanowski grabbed seven rebounds, five offensive, and made two steals.
It all added up to putting the team in position to chase a championship Sunday, the final day of the three-day event at East Stroudsburg University. The semifinals are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and the final is at 2 p.m.
“The way bracket play looks like it’s going to shape up, it’s going to be a difficult day if we want to come out of here with two wins,” Clark said, “but I think the girls understand that. They understand what’s on the line and we’re excited to be in the position we’re in and be playing for a potential championship.”
Smelas and Hurley are high school teammates at Jim Thorpe, Romanowski is from Western Wayne, Belardi is from Scranton Prep and Scoblick is from Abington Heights.
Wyoming Valley West’s Trinity Johnson, who had four points and four rebounds in the quarterfinal, is also part of the combination that produced the 3-0 start to the weekend.
The Clark team is playing without Kaci Kranson, who suffered a wrist injury while playing for Holy Cross in the District 2 Class 2A softball championship game.
The Rini 17U girls team and Butler 15U girls teams are in similar title chases after winning their pools.
The Rini team also has semifinals and finals scheduled for 11:30 and 2.
It went 2-0 to win Pool BB and advance to the 17U Poconos Championship Bracket where it will play New York Extreme Hoops 17U in the semifinals.
The Rini team won its only Saturday game, 53-31, giving it two victories by a total of 53 points.
Claire Dougherty went 5-for-5 from the line while leading the team with 11 points and sharing the team lead with 6 rebounds.
Rowan Murray, who did all of her scoring in the second half, and Avery McNulty added eight points each. Murray was 4-for-5 from the floor and had six rebounds while McNulty had five.
Mia Blume was 3-for-6 from the floor, including a 3-pointer, while scoring seven points.
Dougherty is from Lake-Lehman, Murray from Honesdale, McNulty from Scranton Prep and Blume from Dunmore.
The Butler 15U girls, who had started 2-0 Friday, picked up a forfeit Saturday morning to complete their sweep of Pool BB and put them in the 9:10 a.m. 15U Poconos Championship Game against I-90 Voss.
The team did play an exhibition Saturday in place of the forfeited game and lost, 42-22, to New Jersey Shoreshots 15U Carman.
Gabby Marsola from Wyoming Valley West had a team-high six points.
NEPA Elite’s five teams are a combined 11-3 in the Pennsylvania Showcase after a 6-1 record Saturday.
The Scoblick 15U team won its only game of the day, 44-43, over Connecticut Attack Marks HGSL.
It finished the four-team Pool A with a 2-1 record and will finish up with a 15U Legacy game against Lady Runnin’ Rebels 2021 National HGSL, the second-place finisher in Pool B.
The Scoblick team used balanced scoring and a defensive stop on the game’s final possession to come up with the one-point win in its only Saturday game.
Sophia Talutto and Elyse Montgomery had eight points each. Emily McDonald and Ella Wilson had six each.
Connecticut rallied late to get within a point with possession in the final 15 seconds.
Kate Scoblick secured the final rebound after combining with Montgomery, Finley Bittenbender, Mackenzie Perluke and Allie Dempsey to form the defensive combination for the final stop.
Talutto and Dempsey are from Dunmore, McDonald and Scoblick from Abington Heights, Montgomery from Honesdale, Wilson from Lake-Lehman, Bittenbender from Scranton and Perluke from Wyoming Valley West.
The Sheehan 16U team claimed its first win of the event Saturday night, holding off Lady Mavericks Brittany/Sam, 52-50, after falling to 0-2 earlier in the day with a 46-18 loss to the New Jersey Magic 16U.
It will finish with a consolation game Sunday at 5:30 against Central PA Elite Torchia.
Cadie Lewis from Dunmore scored 22 points to lead the win.
Coach Emily Sheehan credited her team with smart decision-making to protect the lead and set up Lewis free throws, including for the final point with a half-second remaining.