Heading into this season, Roland Park girls basketball coach Scott Buckley worried about how young his team was.
The Reds have two freshmen and two sophomores in their top six, and that youth brings with it inconsistency. It also brings a lot of energy.
At the Art Turner Memorial Classic in Alexandria, Virginia on Dec. 3, Roland Park upset the No. 5 team in USA Today's Super 25, Ossining, N.Y. That showed how good the Reds could be. The next night, they got clobbered by the No. 1 team in the country, Paul VI (Va.).
In Wednesday night's Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference opener against No. 8 Seton Keough, the No. 7 Reds showed their youthful tendencies at times but finished with a dominant fourth quarter to beat the Gators, 47-41.
"I thought we played great in the fourth quarter," Buckley said. "We played a little more under control offensively and then defensively we got a stop whenever we needed one. I told the kids, 'It's really good that we learned a lot of lessons tonight and we got to do it with getting a W.' There are a lot of games like this where you get a lot of lessons but you end up with a loss."
Buckley expected youth to come into play, but he wasn't sure how it would go against a Seton Keough team with five seniors in the starting lineup and all of the Gators aiming to go out on top before their school closes in June.
The host Reds (5-1, 1-0 conference) trailed 33-32 going into the final quarter, but it didn't take long for them to take the lead for good. Sophomore Ja'Niah Henson fed freshman Rain Green for a 3-pointer in the first 40 seconds. Henson then forced a turnover and scored in transition.
That sparked a 10-2 run capped by freshman Mir McLean's put-back for a 43-35 lead with 4:20 to go.
The Gators (2-5, 1-1) turned the ball over 10 times in the quarter and hit just two of nine shots. Brittani Smith's layup cut the Reds lead to 37-35 just over a minute into the quarter, but the Gators didn't hit another basket for more than five minutes. Seton Keough stayed as close as it did thanks to 14-for-17 free-throw shooting.
"As one of my assistant coaches said, we need to find our offensive identity," said first-year coach Stephanie Gilmore, whose team shot 26 percent. "I think once we do, and the girls buy into it, we'll be OK, but we've got to get that going, because we need to be more consistent offensively."
After a flat opening, her Gators used their defense to light up their offense and score 20 points — nearly half of their total output — in the second quarter.
The Reds got a big boost into the second quarter when Aniyah Carpenter hit three free throws with 3.3 seconds left in opening period. She opened the second quarter with a layup off a steal to run Roland Park's lead to 15-5, but the momentum would not last.
Seton Keough started pressing and the Reds couldn't hold onto the ball. They turned it over seven times during a 15-2 Gators run in which six players scored. Sydney Mitchell fed Smith and then scored off a feed from Kaila Jennings for a 20-17 lead with 2:54 left in the quarter.
The teams traded two-basket spurts and then Henson hit a 3-pointer with 8.2 seconds left in the half to tie the game at 25.
"Seton Keough had a great press," Reds senior Jeydah Johnson said. "Our team got a little bit indecisive, started making bad passes … but it was important for us to keep our composure… After we all got together at halftime and talked to each other before the coaches came in, we all told each other to stay confident, make better passes and talk on defense."
The Reds led, 32-27, in the third quarter but a late Gators' run wiped that out and a pair of Jennings free throws gave Seton Keough the 33-32 edge going into the final quarter.
Sophomore Henson and freshman McLean scored 11 points each for the Reds while Jaya Green had 12 for the Gators and Yasmin Lewis added 11.
SK—Addison 2, Bacon 4, Green 12, Mitchell 7, Jennings 2, Lewis 11, Smith 7, Totals 13 14-17 41.
RP—Henson 11, Green 7, McLean 11, Carpenter 9, Johnson 4, Robinson 5. Totals 17 10-15 47. Half: 25-25.