TOWSON - With 6-foot senior forward Laura Coakley penciled in its lineup, the St. Mary's girls basketball team appears capable of running nearly any of its Baltimore Catholic League opponents off the floor by intermission.
However, with Coakley out of the lineup nursing a knee injury, the Saints have learned that in order to win they must play a full 32 minutes a game.
Yesterday, the Coakley-less Saints controlled the lead for a little over 29 minutes against Notre Dame Prep, before squandering it in the waning minutes and bowing to the Pirates, 54-51.
"We just missed too many easy shots," said St. Mary's tri-coach Carmine Blades,. "You can't miss as many layups as we did, against a veteran team, and win."
St. Mary's (3-5) headed into the fourth quarter up by five, 40-35, but quickly gave ground to their persistent opponents. The Pirates pulled to within one with 3:38 remaining on a Sharon Langhoff layup that drew a foul from Candace Blair.
With Langhoff on the line attempting the three-point play, Blades opted to use one of his precious timeouts to settle down his troops and to redirect the game's momentum.
Blades' attempt at disrupting the Pirates' rhythm proved futile, however, as Langhoff returned to the line and buried the shot to tie the game at 43.
Then Notre Dame took the lead for the first time at the 2:23 mark with a pair of free throws by Anne Marie Kelly.
Senior Heather Greenlee answered for the Saints on their ensuing trip down the floor and St. Mary's led 50-49 with 2:08 to go.
Then the floor fell out from under the Saints.
Notre Dame regained the lead on their next possession and never trailed thereafter. The Saints managed to tie the score at 51 at the foul line with 1:10 left, but that was as close as they were to get.
"We had the open lanes but the girls wouldn't drive in them," said Blades. "When a team gives you the lane you have to take it. I don't know why we were pulling up and shooting but we were."
The Saints appeared to be playing with confidence in the first half, despite netting only 3-of-10 shots from the field. Greenlee, who finished the contest with a game-high 19 points, controlled the offensive boards in the first quarter and scooped up a majority of Notre Dames' nine first-quarter turnovers.
Blair established her presence on the boards in the first quarter and picked up four of her 10 points on follow-ups .
Notre Dame found the handle on the ball in the second quarter, and by halftime had narrowed the margin to 26-25.
The Saints struggled from the floor in the third quarter, but were able to build on their lead a bit, thanks to some equally poor shooting by the Pirates.
St. Mary's senior shooting guard Randall Goldsborough had trouble finding her range and converted only 3-of-21 shots from the floor.
Goldsborough finished the game with 11 points, as did forward Ann Donovan.
After the game, the Saint players and coaching staff mourned the loss of Coakley.
"Take Laura out of our offense and your taking away 20 to 25 points a game," said Blades, who remains confident that his team can be successful without their star forward. "It's not only the points though. She's a leader. She's like the quarterback.
"Someone on this team is going to have step up and accept that leadership responsibility, but so far, no one has. I don't appoint leaders.
Leaders are made."