By Tom Robinson, NEPAElite.com
MANHEIM – The NEPA Elite Clark 13U girls team is often the strongest team in its age group as it navigates the AAU basketball schedule.
Sunday through Tuesday at Spooky Nook Sports, the team laid claim to being better than all the 14U teams at The Hoop Group Championship Weekend.
NEPA Elite finished first of 12 teams entered in the 14U Platinum Division, turning back a comeback from Mid Penn Motion 2026 for a 51-50 victory in Tuesday afternoon’s championship game.
The three-day event featured the season championships for the Hoop Group Showcase League, which has divisions for 17U, 16U and 15U teams. The championship weekend also had two divisions available for 14U teams and one for 13U teams. NEPA Elite founder and team coach Kevin Clark chose to move the successful 13U group up and test it against the best of the older competition.
“They’re a very special group,” Clark said. “They’re extremely talented and to be able to come up and not only play in the eighth-grade division, but the eighth-grade Platinum Division and have the success that they did is a testament to who they are and the futures that they have.”
NEPA Elite has won three overall titles in its last five events and picked up pool championships in the other two.
A three-way tiebreaker was needed to decide NEPA Elite’s title in Pool C, which qualified two of the four teams for bracket play. Then, after a semifinal win, NEPA Elite avenged its only pool play loss by opening a nine-point lead in the first half, stretching it as high as 10 in the second half, and holding off Mid Penn Motion in the final.
“The girls were hoping for this matchup to get some revenge,” Clark said.
Zya Small and Cora Castellani led the team down the stretch of two bracket wins during Tuesday’s semifinal and final. Small had 32 points on the day and Castellani 30.
With Mid Penn Motion looking for the game’s final shot to go for the win, Small deflected a pass and Castellani controlled it with two seconds left. Castellani then held on as the clock ran out, clinching the title.
A recap of Tuesday’s two bracket games:
NEPA Elite Clark 13U 71, D1SA Spartans-Brown 63
Small scored the first seven points and Castellani had the last five of a game-ending, 12-2 run to pull out the semifinal victory.
All seven of Small’s points in the last 2:30 came on putbacks.
Small blocked a shot on defense with the Spartans trying to add to a two-point lead, then grabbed her own rebound on the other end and turned it into a three-point play for a 62-61 lead.
D1SA went back ahead 15 seconds later, but then never scored again.
Small converted another offensive rebound while being fouled, producing the 14th and final lead change of a game that also featured 5 ties.
When Small missed out on a second straight three-point play, she tracked down her own rebound and scored again for a 66-63 lead.
Ella Clementoni’s hustle helped protect that lead until Castellani could expand it in the final 1:16.
Clementoni made a diving steal on defense, but slid across the floor to save the ball and avoid a turnover near midcourt.
Castellani went 5-for-6 from the foul line down the stretch, hitting both ends of a one-and-one, the first shot of another, then making both in the double bonus.
With the lead at 68-63 in the final 40 seconds, Small blocked another shot and controlled the defensive rebound.
Castellani finished with 21 points, including the team’s only two 3-pointers along with going 7-for-9 at the line.
Small had a double-double and much more. She finished 7-for-10 from the floor with 21 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and 4 blocked shots.
Two teammates joined them in double figures.
Chrissy Jacklinski was 5-for-9 from the field and 5-for-6 on free throws to finish with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals.
Clementoni went 5-for-7 for 10 points. She also had three assists.
Ava Fenton contributed six defensive rebounds and a team-high five assists.
The Spartans led by as many as eight in the first half, but three fastbreaks, two putbacks and a 3-pointer helped produce a 15-2 run to a 34-31 lead with 2:25 left in the half.
Castellani had five points in the run while Emma Coleman added four and Jacklinski, Eva Kaszuba and Small also had baskets.
Small scored the first five points of the second half for a 43-36 lead, which was NEPA Elite’s largest until Castellani’s free throws to end the game.
NEPA Elite Clark 13U 51, Mid Penn Motion 2026 50
NEPA Elite held Mid Penn Motion to one basket and three points over the final 4:02 to claim the 14U Platinum Division title.
Fenton broke the last tie on a drive in transition with 2:30 left and Small came with a loose ball for a steal near mid court and took the ball all the way for the score that proved to be the game’s winning basket.
Small went 7-for-8 from the floor to score a game-high 16 points while leading the team with 5 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.
Clementoni added 11 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals.
Castellani had 12 points and 4 steals.
Jacklinski scored 7 points. Fenton, Small and Jacklinski each had 2 of the team’s 13 steals.
Castellani scored off a steal and hit a 3-pointer in a 10-3 run to the game’s biggest lead, 43-33, with 8:32 left.
Mid Penn caught up with a 12-2 run and the team’s traded baskets again over the next 26 seconds before the NEPA Elite defense won the game down the stretch.
With the Motion getting to 21 offensive rebounds, NEPA Elite held on by limiting the opponent to 33 percent shooting.
Castellani, Kaszuba and Fenton are from Valley View. Small and Jacklinski are from Scranton. Clementoni is from North Pocono while Coleman is from Abington Heights.
The NEPA Elite 17U girls reached the HGSL Championship Game. https://nepaelite.com/2022/07/clark-17u-team-places-second-in-hgsl/.
Recaps of the finales for the Macciocco 16U and Rini 15U teams: https://nepaelite.com/2022/07/tuesday-recap-rini-team-closes-with-ot-victory/.