The Seton Keough basketball legacy lives on for at least two more days — and maybe longer, if the Gators have their way.
In Tuesday's Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference quarterfinal, the No. 9 Gators played with the intensity you might expect of a team wanting to make the final home game in program history memorable.
They ran up a 20-1 lead and cruised to a 63-25 victory over St. Vincent Pallotti. Senior Sydney Mitchell hit six 3-pointers and led the Gators with 21 points.
The game wasn't overly emotional, as the players had expected. Even as they cut down the net at the end of the game, there were smiles all around.
"I think it's because we played strong," senior Kayla Bacon said. "We had a great crowd behind us and we all just believed in each other. Coming out and winning a game like that was really important for us. It definitely made the game less emotional, because we came out with a win and we get to move on and play again, and that's always a good thing."
With these Gators, there might be more of a bond than on most teams, because not only are the six seniors on the verge of their final Seton Keough game, but with the school closing in June, so are the younger players.
"I think they realize as time goes by, our time in this gym is more and more limited," Gators coach Stephanie Gilmore said. "It's becoming a reality for them now and the longer they play together, the better they work together and then we get other people who don't always get the chance an opportunity to play, and that'll prepare us to move on to the next game."
The win sets up a clash between the sentimental favorite and the overwhelming favorite in Thursday's A Conference semifinal. The Gators (14-10) travel to meet defending champion and No. 1 St. Frances (25-0), which had a bye into the semifinal.
Their last meeting, on Feb. 3, was decided by 10 points. Senior Yasmin Lewis believes her Gators can pull off the upset and go on to punctuate their final season with their first A Conference title since 2009.
"We have to box out Mia [Davis] and Angel [Reese], and get out on the shooters," Lewis said. "We have to know our assignments and just play our game and not get sucked into that stereotype that they're No. 1 and they can't be beat."
Tuesday, the Gators used a 17-0 run capped by Mitchell's first 3-pointer to take a 20-1 lead a minute and a half into the second quarter.
Mitchell struggled with her shot early in the game, rimming out all of her attempts in the first quarter, but she was determined to break through.
"I really had to change my mindset," Mitchell said. "I understood that if I didn't keep shooting, nothing was going to go in, so my coach told me, 'If you stop shooting right now, we're not going to get any points,' so I just focused and I got into the game and I hit them."
Sophomore point guard Tian Addison, who finished with 12 points, scored nine in the first quarter, including two 3-pointers.
The Gators' stingy defense held the Panthers (11-13) without a field goal until Jania Hall scored off a steal with 4:58 left in the second quarter. Lewis, Brittani Smith, Camryn Shaw and Princess Lawson — all in the 5-foot-9 to 6-foot range — combined to frustrate Pallotti's 6-4 center Musharapha Alhassan, who scored just five points.
"We emphasized boxing her out, making sure her and No. 42 [Cynthia Roberts] did not get the boards," Lewis said, "and just making sure we had a touch of the ball every time they were going for it. The goal was to box her out to the 3-point line. I think I achieved it maybe to the volleyball line."
The Gators took off in the third quarter. Holding a 29-13 lead, they extended it to 31 by the end of the quarter. Their biggest lead, 57-20, came when Mitchell hit three of four free throws after Alhassan received two technical fouls for complaining to the official about a call.
For the Panthers, who came into the game as the fifth seed, their youth showed (Alhassan is the team's only senior). They made their only run late in the second quarter and couldn't pull any closer than within 16.
"We missed a lot of shots, didn't rotate on defense, and I felt like we played like a very young team, which we are," Pallotti coach Russell Davis said. "We get ourselves into starting out slow, or we'll get past halftime and we'll start out slow. As a young team, once we dig a hole it's hard for us to catch back up."