For McDonogh's girls basketball team, the third quarter is prime time.
The No. 3 Eagles have won some of their toughest games by coming out strong after halftime, and they did it again Wednesday night to fuel a 53-38 win at No. 7 St. Vincent Pallotti. The win keeps McDonogh in sole possession of first place in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference.
The Eagles, who have won 14 straight games, used a smothering defense to force seven turnovers and hold the Panthers without a point for more than eight minutes. They boosted a four-point halftime lead to 39-22 when Taylor Cummings converted a layup to open the fourth quarter and cap a 15-0 Eagles run.
"Coach Brad [Rees] always stresses the third quarter," Cummings said. "We always need to come out ready and win the third quarter, and if we win the third quarter, we usually win games. We knew we had to come out, pressure them and get to a big lead because Pallotti's a great team and, as you can see, they can come back."
The Panthers rallied with a 9-0 spurt in the final 1:35, but it was too late to make up what was a 19-point deficit.
"You can't score two points in the third quarter and expect to win," Pallotti coach Josh Pratt said. "Against a disciplined team, when you're scrambling and you're trapping, we'd like to win that but that's not our forte. We've got to be more disciplined or they'll pick you apart."
The Eagles (15-1, 8-0 conference) did just that with their merciless defense. The Panthers (11-5, 7-2) got a short jumper from Tiffany Padgett (17 points) to open the third quarter before McDonogh took off.
Freshman point guard Danielle Edwards hit a 3-pointer and Hannah Rees fed Cummings for a layup off Tiersa Winder's steal to spark the run. That 31-22 lead with 5:49 left in the quarter grew to 39-22 on a couple of Brianna Jacobs free throws.
The Eagles boosted their lead to 50-28 after Winder, who scored 18, hit back-to-back 3-pointers and then a free throw with 1:55 left in the game.
And, until the final few minutes, the Cummings-led defense gave the Panthers far too much trouble with their switching looks.
"She's the heartbeat of our defense," Brad Rees said. "She makes so much stuff happen, and our kids are great reacting around her. We are not the best basketball players necessarily, but our kids are just phenomenally athletic and [defense is] where they get after it. They're everywhere. That's the key to our success, our defense."
The Eagles face perhaps the biggest threat to their winning streak when they host a rematch with No. 4 Archbishop Spalding on Wednesday night. The Cavaliers, defending A Conference champions, have lost only one conference game this season, 56-39 to McDonogh on Dec. 14.
M—Kobb 2, Rees 8, Edwards 13, Cummings 9, Winder 18, Jacobs 2, Wynn 2. Totals 18 11-19 53.
P—Sparks 3, Padgett 17, Ogurinde 2, Davis 5, Harrison 9, Nolan 1, Coleman 2. Totals 15 7-12 38. Half: M, 24-20.