By Tom Robinson, NEPAElite.com
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – The NEPA Elite 16U Rini and 15U Scoblick teams used timely recoveries Saturday to post first-round victories and advance to the Hoop Group Showcase League quarterfinals while the 14U Clark team advanced into the quarterfinals through its pool play performance.
All three teams split their two games on the day, but won when it mattered most during the second of four days of competition on The Hoop Group Championship Weekend at the Convention Center.
While the team title pursuits heated up, NEPA Elite also produced some high-scoring individual performances, led by Bella Dennebaum, Zya Small and Jackie Gallagher.
A team-by-team look at Saturday’s action:
NEPA Elite 16U Rini
Third-seeded NEPA Elite was in immediate trouble when the 16-team bracket featuring the Hoop Group’s top teams got underway to determine the HGSL season championship.
After falling behind by 16 points in the first half, NEPA Elite rallied past the Mass Lady Rivals 16U HGSL team, 44-40, in the first round.
NEPA Elite was behind again until scoring the game’s last five points, going 5-for-6 from the line in the final minute.
Maya Jenkins went 3-for-4, including the go-ahead points, and Ella Smith went 2-for-2 to open a three-point lead.
Jenkins and Claire McGrath led a balanced effort with 11 points each. McGrath also had six rebounds and three steals.
Maggie O’Shea added nine points and a game-high four steals.
Smith had eight points.
Jenna Hillebrand had three steals and two assists.
Along with forcing turnovers, NEPA Elite avoided them on the other end, losing the ball just five times in the game.
Mass did not trail until the last 4:11. It ran off 12 straight points, all by going 4-for-5 on 3-pointers in a two-minute stretch, to open the lead to 29-13 with 4:31 left in the half.
NEPA Elite converted a steal into a Jenkins basket for the only points of the rest of the half, beginning a stretch in which it held the Lady Rivals scoreless for 10 minutes while closing to within five points.
The run reached 18-2 when O’Shea hit a corner 3-pointer, then Jenkins and McGrath each converted two free throws for a 31-31 tie midway through the second half.
After two more ties, McGrath hit one of two free throws for the first NEPA Elite lead, 36-35, with 4:11 left.
The NEPA Elite defense tightened up, leading to 13 straight misses by the Lady Rivals from beyond the arc. It allowed just one basket in the last six minutes.
After beginning tournament play, NEPA Elite played one last showcase case, falling to the New Jersey Gemz 16U HGSL team, 40-38, in the last time slot of the night.
The much bigger Gemz team doubled up NEPA Elite’s rebound production, but the game remained close after a 15-0, first-half run put the Gemz ahead, 19-10.
Hillebrand scored a team-high 12 points. Smith added 10 points and 3 steals. Jenkins hit three 3-pointers for nine points and three assists.
O’Shea grabbed a team-leading five rebounds.
NEPA Elite hit five second-half 3-pointers, including two by Jenkins.
Jenkins, McGrath and Hillebrand are from Scranton Prep. Smith is from Wallenpaupack and O’Shea from Scranton.
NEPA Elite 15U Scoblick
The frontcourt combination of Addison Kilmer, Jackie Brown and Natalie Goldstein combined to shoot 18-for-20 while all finishing in double figures as NEPA Elite bounced back from a rough outing in a showcase game to pummel the Boston Showstoppers, 59-29, in the first round of the playoffs to determine the season HGSL champions.
NEPA Elite went into the tournament as the second seed, but also coming off being blown out, 54-21, by the New Jersey Honey Badgers in an afternoon showcase game.
NEPA Elite bounced back to shoot 62.5 percent from 3-point range (5-for-8) and 56.5 percent (26-for-46) overall from the floor.
The 90-percent combined effort of Kilmer, Brown and Goldstein helped.
Kilmer went 6-for-6, hitting her only 3-point attempt, and made one of two free throws to finish with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocked shots.
Brown, who also connected on her only try from beyond the arc, and Goldstein were each 6-for-8. Brown had 13 points, 3 assists and a team-high 4 steals. Goldstein scored 12 points.
NEPA Elite forced 28 turnovers.
Amanda Dempsey added nine points and three steals. She drained her only two 3-point attempts.
Karsyn Kromko dished out eight assists and scored five points.
Goldstein and Brown each had four points in a 13-0 run to a 31-11 lead late in the first half.
Brown had a personal seven-point streak, hitting a corner 3-pointer, then quickly adding two more baskets off steals, one of them her own, to make it 44-18.
Kilmer was 4-for-5 while scoring nine points in the earlier loss.
Goldstein grabbed five rebounds, Lily Scoblick made three steals, and Dempsey and Kromko had two assists each.
Brown and Dempsey are from Dunmore. Goldstein and Kromko are from Honesdale. Kilmer is from Mountain View and Scoblick from Abington Heights.
NEPA Elite 14U Clark
The top two teams in each of four pools landed spots in the eight-team tournament to decide the 15U Platinum Division title.
Playing up a level, NEPA Elite clinched a top-two finish with an early win, then fell short in a battle for first place in Pool D.
NEPA Elite shook off a pair of early, 10-point deficits to defeat IDream, 50-44, then lost to the Boo Williams EYBL team, 63-53, in the afternoon.
Zya Small led the way with 22 points, 13 rebounds, 5 steals, 4 blocked shots and 2 assists in the win.
Cora Castellani added nine points, four assists and three steals.
Chrissy Jacklinski had eight points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocked shots.
Ella Clementoni supplied seven points, five rebounds and five assists.
NEPA Elite moved in front by scoring the last seven points of the half, including Jacklinski’s three-point play in transition for a 28-25 lead at the break.
Small had six points in a clinching, 11-4 run before IDream ended the game with a 3-pointer.
Boo Williams started 8-for-12 on 3-pointers while opening a 10-point lead in the first half.
Small had another strong all-around game, finishing with 18 points, 13 rebounds, 5 blocked shots and 2 steals.
Jacklinski added 12 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
Clementoni had nine points and seven assists.
Kam Gallis hit her first three shots, including a pair of first-half, 3-pointers, to score eight. Jackie Gallagher was 3-for-3 to add six points, three rebounds and two steals coming in off the bench.
Cora Castellani had six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Small and Jacklinski are from Scranton. Clementoni is from North Pocono, Castellani from Valley View, Gallis from Notre Dame of Bethlehem and Gallagher from Crestwood.
NEPA Elite 17U Haefele
NEPA Elite lost to Nex Elite 17U HGSL, 41-30, and Riverside Hawks HGSL, 55-25, to finish 0-3 in the 17U Platinum Division Pool G. It will play in a consolation bracket the last two days.
Frankie Martinelli went 4-for-8 from the floor, 3-for-6 on 3-pointers and 2-for-3 from the line to lead the team with 13 points, 3 assists and 2 steals in the first game.
Mackenzie Perluke added seven points, Brenna Hunt had four rebounds and Ella Cooper had three steals.
Hunt, who did all her scoring in the first half, and Perluke had eight points each in the second game.
Martinelli is from Marian Catholic, Perluke from Wyoming Valley West, Hunt from Lake-Lehman and Cooper from Valley View.
NEPA Elite 16U Butler
Despite two big efforts from Bella Dennebaum, NEPA Elite fell to Comets 10th Select, 46-35, and Long Island Lightning 16U HGSL, 51-48, to finish 0-3 in the 16U Platinum Division Pool C to drop into a consolation bracket for the remainder of the tournament.
Dennebaum had 22 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals in the opener, then 24 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals in the second game. On the day, she shot 20-for-27 from the floor, 4-for-4 on 3-pointers and 2-for-2 from the line.
Madeleine Walsh added six points in the first game, Riley Turner had three steals and Madelyn O’Shea had three assists.
Dennebaum had seven points in a 12-0 start to the first game, but Long Island worked its way back, then forced four turnovers in the final minute, finishing a game-ending, 10-0 run to pull out the win.
The go-ahead basket came with 12 seconds left.
Walsh and O’Shea scored seven points each. Walsh also had four rebounds and three assists.
Nevaeh Baran dished out four assists.
Dennebaum is from Scranton Prep, Walsh from Abington Heights, Turner from Mountain View, O’Shea from Scranton and Baran from Nanticoke.
NEPA Elite 14U Alers
NEPA Elite won one game and lost in overtime in the other to finish 1-2 in Pool A of the 14U Division and fall into a consolation bracket.
Gallagher had a perfect day at the foul line while NEPA Elite defeated Lone Wolf 14U, 44-39, before the loss to New Jersey Shoreshots 14U Dubina, 46-42, in overtime.
A 29-point game from Gallagher paved the way to the opening win. She was 10-for-13 from the floor, hitting her only 3-point shot while making all six free throws.
Gallagher also grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots. She was 7-for-7 from the floor in the first half before taking all her foul shots in the second half.
Kayli McHugh made three 3-pointers while adding nine points and five rebounds.
Jaelyn Alers had six points and two steals.
Abby Schneider added two assists and two steals.
Gallagher was 10-for-10 at the line while scoring 18 points to lead three in double figures in the overtime loss. She also had five rebounds.
Alers made all four of her free throws while scoring 12 points and McHugh hit three more 3-pointers while adding 11.
McHugh is from North Pocono, Alers from Scranton Prep and Schneider from Abington Heights.