This afternoon's Catholic League Tournament championship will give No. 2 St. Mary's and No. 3 Seton Keough exactly what they wanted -- a third chance at each other.
Top-seeded St. Mary's had to fend off No. 13 Mercy's upset bid, 58-57, to force a final showdown with Seton Keough. The Gators had an easier time of it rolling past John Carroll, 70-40, in last night's second semifinal at Spalding.
While St. Mary's (27-1) remains unbeaten in Catholic League competition, Seton Keough (22-4) has lost only two Catholic League games -- both to the Saints. The title game at 2 p.m. at Spalding will be the third meeting between the two in 11 days.
"It's hard to beat a team three times especially in the amount of NTC time we've had to do it, but we wanted to play Seton Keough again," said Saints forward Tara Foran. "There still are so many people who think they're better than us even though we've beaten them twice. If we can beat them a third time, maybe they'll finally believe."
Foran said the Saints don't feel any more pressure than expected with the Catholic League title on the line and the Gators feel the same way.
"I think the pressure's on them more than us," said Seton Keough forward Meghann Donovan. "We lost to them twice so we have nothing to lose."
Foran and Donovan, both senior forwards, had game-high scoring efforts to lead their teams to victory last night. Foran scored 20 and had six rebounds while Donovan scored 22, grabbed 10 rebounds and had seven steals.
For St. Mary's, last night's contest with Mercy (18-10) was anybody's game until Foran hit the first of two free throws with five seconds left. That gave the Saints a 58-54 edge and they needed every bit of it, because Mercy guard Shannon Cohen (15 points, four assists) nailed a 40-footer at the buzzer.
The Saints struggled early and Mercy bolted to a 7-0 lead. But before the first quarter ended, St. Mary's had pulled ahead. The lead changed hands 14 more times.
With 1:24 left in the game, the Saints took the lead for good when Heidi Moldenhauer found Emily Lipton open on the baseline for a 12-footer and a 56-54 edge. Lipton, who finished with 10 points, hit a free throw with 18 seconds left before Foran hit another giving St. Mary's the four-point lead.
In the final minutes, the Saints grabbed some critical rebounds after Mercy dominated the boards much of the game. Both teams ended up with 44 rebounds, but the Saints out-rebounded the Magic, 14-8 in the final quarter and 6-2 in the last two minutes.
Jen Manning (11 rebounds) and Nicole Foran grabbed key rebounds that contributed to the Saints' last four points.
For Seton Keough, the breakaway came much earlier.
John Carroll (12-13) stayed within a point of the Gators at the half, but the Patriots didn't have nearly enough left to pull off their second upset in as many days. Friday, the Patriots upset No. 12 and third-seeded Institute of Notre Dame, 53-51.
The Gators opened the second half with 16 unanswered points to run up a 45-28 lead. John Carroll turned the ball over 10 times during that run and didn't manage a shot until after the Gators scored 11.
"Their defensive pressure was just too much for us to handle," said Patriots coach Kathleen Shannon. "We were tired. We tried several different things but nothing seemed to work."
Donovan and Andrea Pinheiro (nine points) led the second-half rally. Kelly Kearney finished with 11 points, including three three-pointers. Jen Westervelt led the Patriots with 19 points and nine rebounds.