High temperatures in the Lancaster, PA area were forecast to be above 90 degrees both days this weekend, so Mother Nature decided to bring the heat. However, the action inside the Spooky Nook facility is proving to be even hotter as The Prime Event revs up. I'm on hand for the entire weekend - Spooky Nook has become one of several second homes to me, so not a surprise - and before Sunday tips off, let's do something a little different and take a look back at the games I was able to catch on the opening day.
8:30 - Albany Lady Stars 2022 vs. Bay State Jaguars 2023 Gold
The day started off with a competitive battle, as I finally got to watch a full game of Coach Twigzz' 2022 squad. This one was pretty close from the jump, and the Jags held a narrow 25-24 edge at halftime. They threatened to separate themselves at one point in the 2nd half, but recent Caldwell (Division II) commit KJ Gordon had a monster 2nd half for the Lady Stars to keep them within striking distance. However, BSJ proved to be too much - thanks in large part to a killer 2025 tandem of Olivia Rodrigues and Aleah Bracey - in a 56-50 Jags victory.
|KJ Gordon went off in the 2nd half & led a furious Lady Stars charge in the final minutes.|
9:40 - Albany Lady Stars vs. NEPA Elite 2024s
Another time slot, another Lady Stars game, this time the 2024s as they took on NEPA Elite in a battle between two programs in my "primary coverage region". Lady Stars grabbed an early lead, but NEPA went on a big run late in the 1st half fueled by the perimeter shooting of Finley Bittenbender on the way to a 28-22 halftime lead. The Scranton-area crew maintained a narrow lead the rest of the way and held off the Lady Stars for a 43-40 victory. Along with Finley & Kennedy Bittenbender, it was a lot of 2025s that made noise in this one; Sophia Tallutto & Ella Wilson for NEPA, and Azera Gates, Morgan Brewer, & Hannah Lauenstein for Lady Stars.
10:50 - X-Gen Elite vs. Team Final 2023s
Most games that I watched on Saturday were close & competitive the whole way. This was the first one where a team broke away, and it was the X-Gen crew out of the Buffalo area. After a sluggish start, they went on a 7-0 spurt late in the 1st half to push ahead to a 23-13 halftime lead. They continued to extend it from there, running to a 46-28 W. Casey Mahony was particularly impressive for X-Gen. Her impact is always felt on the court, often heavily in non-box score contributions (effort/energy/leadership & on the boards), but she packed a scoring punch with several jumpers off the catch, a couple finishes in transition, & more on the offensive glass. Rachel Kamrowski also picked it up in the 2nd half to help them extend the lead, although in limited minutes due to taking a shot below the eye.
|Casey Mahony made her presence felt by impacting the boards & the scorebook as X-Gen ran to 2-0 on the day.|
12:00 - City Rocks vs. Team Rio
The first 2022 platinum division game I got to see was this one, as City Rocks took on GUAA program Team Rio. Rio was able to extend their cushion late in the 1st half, thanks in large part to hot shooting across the board, particularly off the right hand of 2022 Faith Pappas, and the offensive prowess of Mikayla Blakes, a 2024 that already holds Power 5 offers. She ended the half with a couple buckets to push their lead to 42-27. Rio pushed the margin into the 20 range in the 2nd half, but an undermanned City Rocks squad continued to battle and eventually cut the deficit back into single digits. However, the hole was too deep, as Team Rio pulled out a 74-65 victory. Payton Graber (2022) packed a much-needed scoring punch for City Rocks and was a noticeable presence on the ball. Maren Louridas (2022) also had her moments throughout the game, and Natasha Chudy, a 2023 that recently picked up her 1st offer from Siena, got it going in the 2nd half.
|Mikayla Blakes left no doubt as to why she's already receiving offers from Power 5 programs as a 2024.|
1:10 - Bay State Jaguars Gold 2022 vs. Lehigh Valley Fever
This was about the time of day where things got screwy. Because of timing (last game ending late, this one starting early), I didn't get over to Court 10 until later in the 1st half. A scrappy, physical, sloppy-at-times last few minutes of the half led to a 20-14 Jags edge. They were able to open it up in the 2nd half with an overall balanced attack, a testament to the depth of their program, en route to a 52-35 victory.
2:20 - NEPA Elite II vs. NJ Sparks Red
I missed the entire 1st half of this game (and the first couple minutes of the 2nd) due to deciding 2:20 would be my lunch break. When I got there, the Sparks led 34-26. By the end, NEPA had pulled away to a 52-40 victory, so feel free to do the math as to how the last 12+ minutes went. They received a heavy dose of post production from 2022s Chase Purdy and Claire Dougherty, and 2023 guard Kallie Booth was able to handle pressure & spend a lot of time in the paint in the 2nd half in what was an impressive comeback W.
3:30 - NY Havoc Blue GUAA vs. Boston Showstoppers
Two teams that were looking to break into the W column after falling in their bracket play openers, and the Havoc crew shook off a slow start to make sure that it'd be them. Despite struggling offensively through much of the 1st half, they kept the Showstoppers at 4 on the scoreboard for a very long time & pulled to a 22-10 lead at the break. They continued to separate themselves & ran to a 52-29 victory, which was the largest margin I saw on the day. Morgan Tompkins had a particularly solid performance, especially in the 2nd half as they stretched their lead, and Marist commit Jackie Piddock had the kind of solid performance on the ball that you come to expect from her at this point, but the story at this point is the presence of Morgan Lee. The 6'4" 2022 and Georgetown commit recently joined Havoc and has instantly made an impact with her presence around the rim and ability to score in the post. She was a clear difference maker in this game, and I look forward to seeing them as they continue to gel.
|Georgetown commit Morgan Lee is already proving to be a major addition for the Havoc program.|
4:40 - Exodus EYBL vs. Team PA Polly
Of course, I circled this one on the schedule to stop in and watch longtime WNY standout Shay Ciezki in action, but it's always fun to watch a team with talent depth like Exodus. Shay's profile has blown up over the last 8 months, and her recruitment is cemented among the Power 5 ranks while now seeing her name among the nation's elite on the espnW Hoopgurlz rankings. She had a nice start in what was a competitive opening half, and it didn't take long for others to make their presence felt. It felt like nearly everyone took their turn as they pushed to a 42-32 halftime lead. The beginning of the 2nd half belonged to Carys Baker (2022) as the lefty flashed the offensive versatility, and they broke it open in the process & eventually earned a 66-45 W. Despite the final score, Team PA stepped up to the plate, especially in the early going. Niagara commit Marlie Dickerson made plays for herself & teammates with the ball in her hands, and 6'1" 2022 Anastasiya Astapenka stepped out & showed the range with a few early threes.
|Shay Ciezki helped Exodus get started on the right foot in their Prime Event opening W.|
5:50 - Capitals Team McBride vs. NJ Sparks NEYC 2024
Though the Capitals led essentially wire to wire, this turned into one of the more entertaining games of the day. The Albany-based group led 27-20 at the break and held off the Sparks on the way to a 55-50 W, but there were a couple twists & turns along the way. I thought Gabby Martin had a particularly noteworthy performance with her effort, energy, & finishing ability 12' and in, and she's clearly cementing herself as a 2024 to watch in the Capital District. Allison O'Hanlon provided consistently solid play and a feeling of steadiness that they needed in the backcourt, and Ellie Cerf packed a big scoring punch for the Capitals along with getting a couple big steals in the final minute. Sofia Sanchez, a strong 2024 guard that showed the ability to get to the rim & score and knock it down from the perimeter, caught my eye for the Sparks.
|Gabby Martin made a major impact for the Capitals in their Prime Event opening W.|
7:00 - NY Havoc 2023 GUAA vs. CT Starters White
Similar to my first Havoc game of the day, this was a matchup between two teams looking to break into the W column. Also similar to my first Havoc game of the day, T-Flo's group made sure it was them. Behind solid play from Jayla Tyler and a perimeter shooting barrage from Jaidyn Chest & Ava Pearson, they jumped to a 31-16 halftime lead. The Starters responded and continued to battle throughout, with 2023 Annelise Martens and 2024s Samantha Mancini, Sequoia Turcotte-Briggs & Adeline Standish all making some impact. In a 2nd half that I think the Havoc crew would admit was ugly for long stretches, they needed to grind it out, and Meagan Schuermann answered the ball with an extended series of impact plays fueled by her motor. Havoc eventually won 52-40.
8:10 - NEPA Elite Clark vs. Fairfax Stars EYBL
The last game of the day was arguably my best one, as two high-powered groups put on a show while trying to earn a berth into the Platinum division quarterfinals. Ciera Toomey, currently ranked #14 in the 2023 class in the latest espnW rankings, and Drexel commit Kylie Lavelle made their presence felt early. However, the loaded backcourt of Fairfax Stars, led by Kiki Rice (#6 in espnW 2022 rankings), Riley Nelson (2023), and Kiyomi McMiller (#4 in espnW 2024 rankings), quickly established themselves and set the tone for a battle. Moriah Murray, also a Drexel commit, stepped up to the challenge for NEPA Elite & had a strong end to the 1st half, which saw them hold a narrow 30-27 lead. It was the usual suspects doing damage on both ends as Fairfax took a lead, extended it to double digits, and lost it as NEPA battled back. Toomey & Murray had fantastic 2nd halves in particular, and Kaeli Romanowski stepped up & made some big plays in the final minutes, including a three to give them a late lead followed by an assist to Toomey's game winning layup in the final seconds. NEPA walked out with a 67-65 W and a trip to the quarterfinals on Sunday.
|Moriah Murray (Drexel commit) was fantastic for NEPA Elite as they ended the day 2-0.|
The Brackets: Who's In The Hunt?
I mean, this is bracket play and everyone is playing to win, right? So a quick rundown of who's still in the race for a Prime Event title as all brackets enter quarterfinals Sunday morning:
The 2022 Platinum division features 7 shoe teams and an independent. The top half of the brackets sees a GUAA battle as GTS Fusion lines up against Team Curry, and NJ Sparks EYBL takes on lone remaining independent NEPA Elite. It's Nike vs. Adidas in the bottom half, as Philly Rise EYBL takes on Team Lex Nation 3SSB and Team Takeover EYBL draws Mass Rivals Platinum 3SSB.
Like the 2022s, the 2023 Platinum division also has 7 shoes and an independent remaining. WPA Bruins GUAA takes on Mass Rivals Platinum 3SSB, and Nike vs. Nike completes the top half as Philly Rise plays Fairfax Stars. Team Takeover EYBL gets lone independent I-90 Elite - Wright in a rematch of a fun battle last month, and Exodus EYBL draws the Comets GUAA squad in the bottom half.
The 2024 Platinum division is more evenly split between shoe-sponsored & independent programs. WPA Bruins GUAA starts their Sunday with a good MCW Starz squad, and Mid-Atlantic Magic draw Team Takeover EYBL to complete the top half. The Comets GUAA group plays Team Melo, and it's Philly Rise EYBL and New Heights completing the 2024 matchups.
There are also Gold division championships in each age bracket. I won't go through all of them, but from my primary coverage region: NEPA Elite Rini is in the 2022 quarterfinals after a 2-0 start, where they'll play GTS Fusion Rise. The 2023 Gold bracket is filled with teams from the extended region, highlighted by a Buffalo vs. Scranton matchup as X-Gen Elite gets NEPA Elite. I-90 Elite - McCauley has also made the quarterfinals, where they'll take on Comets Iacone. The 2024s have a Westchester County representative, as the Hoopers - Ziogas squad plays a CT Spirit group in the quarterfinals.
One day down, one to go. See you in the gym as bright & early as I'll wake up for!