by Derek Toney
One streak continued while another ended Friday at St. Frances Academy.
That's where the second-sseded Panthers defeated McDonogh, 61-56, in an IAAM A Conference basketball semifinal Friday afternoon to extend their consecutive championship-game appearances to four while preventing the Eagles from earning their eighth-straight berth.
Junior Angel Reese scored 22 points for St. Frances (21-3 overall), and Aniya Gourdine added 21.
The Panthers opened up an 11-point second half advantage before weathering a McDonogh rally to advance to the final at Stevenson University. The East Baltimore team, winners of last three IAAM A titles, will play Roland Park Country School in the finale Sunday at 6 p.m.
Top=seeded Roland Park Country School (26-1) disposed of St. Vincent Pallotti, 58-28, in the other A Conference semifinal Friday.
The Panthers will test the Reds in the finale for the first time in 15 years, and Reese feels her team is well prepared for on the IAAM's biggest stage.
“It’s about patience and working as a team,” said Reese, “and being confident.”
“Every game in this league is tough,” said St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton. “We value every victory.”
Leading 30-26 at halftime, St. Frances went on a 11-4 run to start the second half for a 41-30 advantage. Gourdine, a sophomore, started it with a 3-pointer, and added another dagger for a 37-30 lead.
The Panthers forced back-to-back turnovers each leading to Reese, arguably the area’s best player, finding Savawn Hughes and Khalia Turner, respectively, for easy baskets.
“We were able to get into transition through our defense,” said Shelton. “For some reason, we put together nice leads, then get lazy with it.”
McDonogh, which battled back from a 15-point deficit to St. Frances last week, were again tenacious Friday. The Eagles drew to 43-41 early in the fourth after Aleah Nelson’s basket.
The Panthers answered McDonogh’s assault, building up the lead to 50-43 after Gourdine’s basket with 5:40 left in regulation. The Eagles drew to 50-47 before a 5-0 spurt, featuring Reese’s drive to the basket and Gourdine's score following a Reese block, that made it 55-46 with 2:22 remaining.
McDonogh (20-6) would not relent. The Eagles were within 55-54 after two free throws from sophomore Jayla Oden with 49.5 seconds left to play.
Reese, a 6-foot-3 post turned playmaker, then found Madyson Hinton under the basket for a layup with 31 seconds remaining.
The Eagles missed a 3-pointer, and Gourdine shortly followed with two free throws with 9.9 seconds left. She added two more throws to finally put McDonogh away.
Nelson, a University of Cincinnati recruit, finished with 17 points for the Eagles, and Oden had 15. McDonogh, which lost twice to Roland Park this season, dropped three decisions to St. Frances this winter by a total of 20 points.
“We had stretches where we get down by 10, 11, 12 points and have to spend so much energy to get back in it. We kept fighting, that’s all I can ask,” said McDonogh coach Brad Rees, who didn’t have senior guard Jessica Booth this season because of an ACL injury. “This may have been my most gratifying season.”
It will be round three Sunday evening between St. Frances and Roland Park. The Reds, ranked 20th nationally by USA Today, will bring a perfect mark in league play (16-0) including 62-46 and 58-57 decisions over the Panthers.
“Anybody can win on any given night. We lost to Roland Park twice, so we can come back,” said Reese. “As long as we play as a team, we can win.”