In a playoff game between two evenly-matched teams, it came down to who did more of the little things, and St. Vincent Pallotti won that battle as the hosts prevailed over McDonogh, 46-44, on Thursday night in front of a hyper-enthusiastic crowd.
The Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semi-final victory advanced the Panthers to the championship game against St. Frances on Sunday, Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. at Stevenson University.
“Pallotti has never been in the A Conference championship, so we are playing for Sunday, but we’ve got to celebrate this one a little bit,” Pallotti coach Joe Mathews said. “We said this game is going to be determined by doing the little things and we knew it was going to be a battle all the way through.”
The loss ended McDonogh’s 7-game winning streak and Pallotti (21-6) extended their winning streak to seven.
During the regular season, Pallotti defeated McDonogh 52-50 and 56-53.
Senior Eniya Russell scored a game-high 20 points and classmate Senior Jania Hall added eight points for the Panthers in this matchup.
Russell had seven of her points in the first quarter when the Panthers built a 13-8 lead and held the Eagles to one field goal and six free throws.
McDonogh (19-7) was led in scoring by freshman Makaela Quimby (16 points) and junior Jayla Oden (14).
McDonogh battled back and extended a 6-point halftime lead to 30-22 with 6:50 left in the third quarter on a basket by Nekhu Mitchell, before the Panthers started chipping away.
After watching Oden score all 14 of her points in the first half, including 12 in the second quarter, the Panthers threw a gimmick defense on her.
“We tried a box-and-one on Jayla (Oden) and after a while we played her and the shooter (Quimby), because they were the two scorers, to make sure they didn’t get their threes down,” junior Vashae Rideout said.
Pallotti whittled the lead to 30-28 with six straight points.
Janie Hall and Tahlia Stangherlin made field goals and Rideout sunk a pair off free throws and the Panthers trailed 30-28 with 5:05 left.
A three-pointer by Quimby was answered by baskets from Russell and Hall and the McDonogh lead was 33-32 with 2:16 left in the quarter.
Pallotti didn’t score the rest of the quarter and McDonogh freshmen Quimby and Paris Locke did and the Eagles took a 37-32 lead into the final quarter.
“They clamped down on [Oden] pretty aggressively which kind of took us out of any offensive flow,” McDonogh coach Brad Rees said. “We’ve got a very young group. We had three freshmen on the court for most of the second half.”
Despite its offensive lapse in the third quarter, they only committed four turnovers in the second and third quarters after they had eight in the first quarter.
The turnover bug returned for McDonogh in the fourth when they committed seven more for a total of 19.
McDonogh maintained a 39-35 lead before Russell canned a three-pointer with 4:51 left to cut it to 39-38.
A fast-break bucket by Rideout gave the Panthers a 40-39 lead with 4:23 left. A free throw from Locke tied it with 3:21 remaining.
Finally, Rideout sunk two from the charity stripe with seven seconds left and the Panthers led 46-43.
“I was calm,” Rideout said. “I knew we had it, we practice free throws at practice every day, so I had the free throws, I had confidence that I could knock them down.”
Despite the lead, the game wasn’t sealed. Quimby was fouled deep in the backcourt with three seconds left trailing by three.
“We were calling actually for a foul there because we were up three and we knew they were in a one-and-one situation down at their end,” Mathews said. “They have Makael Quimby and some other players that can fill the basket.”
Quimby made the first free throw and tried to miss the second intentionally, but it ended up in the hands of Syndor and the game was history.