Until McDonogh's Brianna Jacobs stepped to the free throw line with 1:16 left in Wednesday night's girls basketball showdown at No. 3 Roland Park, her No. 1 Eagles had led only 40 seconds of the game.
The senior forward, who had just hit a 3-pointer to tie, made both free throws. Her tight defense on Roland Park's top scorer, Michala Clay, then forced a missed layup, and Jacobs grabbed the rebound. About 20 seconds later, her layup sealed a 56-52 victory.
"Down to those last two minutes, I was probably as focused as can be," said Jacobs, who finished with 11 points and six rebounds. "I was just determined. We said we can't go down like this and I really can't tell you exactly what happened because it's all a blur to me. I was just trying to focus and get some points up."
Even though three weeks remain in the season, the victory will probably be the key to McDonogh clinching the top seed in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference tournament. The Eagles (15-1) improved to 7-0 and have a two-game edge on Roland Park (9-6, 5-2) and No. 5 St. Frances (10-5, 5-2), with only one conference game left against a team with a winning record.
The Eagles had to rally from a 14-point, second-quarter deficit on Wednesday to win their 11th straight game. They took advantage of their opportunities late and also benefited from hitting 19 of 26 free throws against a Reds team that shot 49 percent from the field.
The Reds hit five of their first six shots and Clay, who finished 8-for-12 with 21 points, scored 16 in the first half to spark a 25-11 lead.
"We just weren't ready to play," McDonogh coach Brad Rees said, "and they shot so well that I think it kind of knocked us back on our heels a little bit. We have a tendency to rely on our talent, sometimes, more than our execution, and we saw a lot of that again tonight, where we came out and didn't execute and they executed."
The Eagles finally got their offense rolling with an eight-point run and cut Roland Park's lead to 31-28 at the half on Danielle Edwards' runner.
In the third quarter, the Reds boosted the lead to six twice and led 40-34 after Jaia Alexander's follow shot with 5:23 to go in the quarter. The Eagles then staged another eight-point run and three Reds turnovers helped McDonogh take its first lead of the game.
After Andrea Robinson hit two free throws, Edwards and Maya Wynn converted turnovers into points to tie and Dajah Logan added two free throws for a 42-40 lead with 2:02 left in the quarter. The teams traded baskets until Jeydah Johnson's 3-pointer gave the Reds a 47-44 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Each time the Eagles rallied, they were helped by some of the Reds' 23 turnovers. Coach Scott Buckley pointed to a two-minute stretch when the Reds led 52-49 and then turned the ball over four times — the last one leading to Jacobs' 3-pointer.
"The game-on-the-line situation, they handled much better than we did," Buckley said. "We just turned the ball over too much down the stretch, four times with a three-point lead, when we could have increased the lead to five or whatever, and I think we would have settled down and been in a good spot."
1McDonogh 56, 3Roland Park 52
M—Edwards 16, Wynn 9, B.Jacobs 11, Logan 14, Robinson 6. Totals 18 19-26 56.
RP—Alexander 10, Edwards 9, Holder 6, Clay 21, Johnson 6. Totals 22 4-12 52. Half: RP, 31-28.