Thousands of students and alumnae from Mercy and the Institute of Notre Dame spent the better part of an hour Friday night exchanging ear-ringing cheers, chants and renditions of their alma mater before an annual girls basketball game that has evolved into one of the largest high school events in the area.
Once play began, however, only one side was left cheering at "The Game."
Trailing early, IND took command with 17 straight points, using its strong guard play and larger front line to keep Mercy scoreless for more than a quarter as it built a 21-point lead and held on for a 45-35 win before an announced 3,976 at Towson's SECU Arena.
"Our game is all about taking care of business at the defensive end, and then our offense will take care of itself," IND coach Doug Able said. "We got out of the gates a little slow, but we gained a lot of momentum really quickly."
IND (12-5) defeated its archrival for just the second time in eight years, and now trails 30-18 in the all-time series, which debuted the same year as the Super Bowl.
The game marked the series' debut at SECU Arena, after 17 years at the Towson Center. It now has taken place in seven arenas since its inception in 1967.
For the first time since 1986, the game went on without Mary Ella Marion on Mercy's sideline. Marion, the school's athletic director, retired as a coach after last season, with former assistant Dave Zikorus talking the reins.
On paper, this year's matchup figured to be more compelling than most. Mercy (2-14) had struggled against competition in the powerful Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference, while IND is vying for a title in the second-tier B Conference.
In reality, it was a mostly one-sided affair.
Led by point guard Brooke Fields (19 points) and combo guard Morgen Caution (10), the Penguins consistently shredded Mercy's defense for easy baskets, then used their athletic pressure defense to force turnovers and poor shots at the other end.
After allowing the game's opening basket, they went on a 17-0 run over the next 8:31, later extending their lead to 22-7 on a 3-pointer by Fields.
"Coach told us we had to stay focused and we had to come out hard from the beginning, and that's what we did," Fields said.
By halftime, IND led 29-8, paced by a defense that held Mercy to 2-for-24 shooting and forced 15 turnovers in the first half.
The Magic played markedly better in the second half, getting to within 14 on Kendyl Cochran's layup late in the third quarter and pulling closer at the line in the final moments. The game could've been even closer had IND done better at the free-throw line, where it missed 24 of 40 shots.
"We've had a tough time shooting this year," Zikorus said. "Our shooters don't come through during the game a lot, and it hurts."
(at SECU Arena)
IND 45, Mercy 35
Mercy – Cummings 1, McDonough 5, Jones 1, Bayton 9, Davis 2, Holt 1, Cobb 6, Cochran 8, Berg 2. Totals: 8 16-40 35.
IND – Fields 19, Caution 10, Kappner-Jones 2, Williams 3, Price 5, Irving 2, Gayhardt 2, Cummings 2. Totals: 14 15-24 45.
Half: IND, 29-8.