Amanda Novak’s game-winner delivers Smith Academy girls basketball low-scoring win over Pioneer

  • Pioneer’s Laura Kahler launches up a 3-pointer over Smith Academy’s Emma Moynihan in the second quarter Thursday in Hatfield. PHOTO BY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • Smith Academy’s Emma Moynihan, drives the ball up the court past Pioneer’s Sofia Walker in the first quarter Thursday in Hatfield. Smith Academy won 23-20 but the game ended too late for print. For full coverage, please see PHOTO BY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • Smith Academy’s Bailey McCoy powers the ball up strong in the lane past Pioneer’s Laura Kahler and Caroline Ring in the second quarter Thursday in Hatfield. PHOTO BY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • Smith Academy’s Caitlin Graves, powers the ball up the court past Pioneer’s Sofia Walker in the first quarter Thursday in Hatfield. PHOTO BY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • Smith Academy’s Emma Moynihan drives the baseline to the hoop past Pioneer’s Sofia Walker in the first quarter Thursday in Hatfield. PHOTO BY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

Published: 12/17/2021 10:51:10 AM
Modified: 12/17/2021 10:50:36 AM

HATFIELD – With the clock winding down, the Smith Academy girls basketball team needed a hero. Amanda Novak grabbed her cape and sunk a late three-pointer that stood as the game-winner against Pioneer Regional in a nail-biting 23-20 win at home Thursday.

“I didn't know that 23-20 game could be that exciting. It was incredible,” Smith Academy head coach David Zononi said. “We actually drew a play up for (Novak) the previous play, and she just knew well enough to get to the open spot and had the courage to take the shot.” 

Novak was talking with her teammate Emma Moynihan before the play about trying to set something up from that three-point spot. Popping out from the baseline to take a three is something that they occasionally try in games, but it doesn’t always work as perfectly as it did on Thursday.

“I (was hoping) it doesn't air-ball, because half the time it does, and half the time it goes in,” Novak said on what she was thinking during her shot. “I'm just so happy I got it down, because I've been working really hard at that.”

Novak finished the game with nine points for Smith Academy, just behind Bailey McCoy, who led the team with 10 points. Whitney Dunklee was the only player to break into double-digits for Pioneer, putting up 10 points in the loss. 

Neither team had more than a four-point lead the entire game – and emotions ran high at the end when Pioneer had possession with less than 10 seconds to play and tried to set up a hail mary shot to send the game to overtime. Ultimately, they weren’t able to pull it off, but the Panthers had a lot of things stacked against them. 

“We have a 14-person team, and we're down to eight today. So that doesn't make it easy when you lose half of your team for one game,'re in foul trouble,” Pioneer coach Mike Churchill said. “So you have to make do with what you have to work with.” 

Both teams struggled at the free throw line;.Smith Academy went 2-of-14, while Pioneer was 2-0f-11.

“We knew that (Smith Academy) would be quick. We knew that they would push the pace. So we knew that we had to try to drop back and prevent those long, breakaway layups, and for the most part we did,” Churchill said. “We executed many parts of our game plan correctly, but the shots didn't fall, the free throws didn't fall, and unfortunately those would put points on the board.”

FRESHMAN PHENOM – Amidst a starting lineup that featured three seniors, freshman Caitlin Graves was the youngest starter to hit the floor for Smith Academy. It says a lot about the trust a coach has in a player to start someone so young. While she didn’t put any points on the board on Thursday, Zononi likes what Graves brings to the table. 

“She just mirrors what the upperclassmen bring,” Zononi said. “She brings that toughness, she really handles the ball well, she sets the tone for us, and everyone feeds off her. She's a really good athlete. 

HARD WORK PAYS OFF - By far the best player for Pioneer, at least on the scoresheet, was Dunklee with her 10 points. Most of those points came from balls that were fed to her in the paint for a quick layup, or some smart rebounding to put the ball back up and into the net. According to Churchill, this breakout game was the result of a lot of hard work put in over the the last few seasons.

“We’ve kind of gotten some of the timidness out of her, and now she really works hard underneath for us. She does a lot of the dirty work that doesn't show up on the scoreboard, blocking shots and changing shots, things like that,” Churchill said. “That's easily the best game she's had since I've been coaching her. So it's definitely something to work on for the next game.”

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT – Though Zanoni was happy with the team's win, he made it clear that his team was going to be hard at work to perfect the free throws that they missed. 

“We already let them know we'd be shooting about 900 (free throws) in practice,” Zanoni said with a grin. “They worked their tail off and it wasn't going to be a physical practice, but we were going to shoot a lot of those.”

Maybe not the most ideal way to spend a practice, but Novak said if she had to choose between keeping the win or not having to do the free throws tomorrow, she’s happy to keep the win.

“Absolutely,” Novak said. “I would take that any day. I love my team and the way we played tonight.”

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