St. Mary's, down but not out through three quarters, rallied from 13 points behind to overtake Westminster, 58-57, in the opening round of the annual Westminster Holiday Classic last night.
The Saints (8-3), off to their best start in the past 17 years, will play No. 9 Aberdeen (6-0) in tonight's championship game at 8 at Westminster High. The Eagles advanced with a 77-54 triumph over out-manned Urbana.
Jamal Reed, a junior reserve guard for St. Mary's, made the last of his nine points the biggest one when he made one of two foul shots to break a tie at 57 with 19 seconds left.
Westminster (5-3) had the ball the rest of the time, but failed to connect on three shots, two of them on good looks at the basket.
The host team started out as though to make it a runaway, building a 20-4 lead through the first seven minutes. The margin was 16 at the half, and the Saints closed to within 10, before the Owls stretched the margin to 51-38 going to the last quarter.
Where the Owls made only 16 second-half points, St. Mary's responded to the challenge with balanced scoring, as four players got all but two of its last 20 points.
The balance was reflected in the final overall scoring, as Scott Driscoll, a 6-foot-6, 230-pounder and the team's only senior, had 16 points; A.J. Mason, 15, and D.J. Dauses, 14, to lead the way.
"The kids fought hard and never gave up," said first-year coach Roger Reed, who did a masterful coaching job. It was one of several "minor" halftime changes he made that set the tempo for the comeback.
"No. 12 [Desmond Esteves] was killing us early with his three-pointers. We wanted to press harder and trap in the corners, making a definite effort to try and force the ball to somebody else," Reed said.
Esteves, a 5-10 junior guard, had three three-pointers in the first quarter and four for the half, before being restricted to just two baskets in the second half. He and junior guard Aaron Krug scored 16 points each.
Aberdeen, which has shown a tendency to be inconsistent while playing to the level of the opposition, played hard for more than a half against Urbana (1-5), breaking away on a 14-point run midway through the third quarter.
Urbana, which has only freshmen and sophomores, is in its first varsity season. "We knew Aberdeen had athletes, but we were more concerned about doing the things we can do," coach Terry Connolly said.
Two of the things it did were limit the Eagles' shooting and forcing turnovers while overcoming a 12-point deficit to tie the score at 32 early in the third quarter. Aberdeen then bolted to a 46-32 cushion.
"They started getting second and third shots on us and we had no answer," Connolly said.
Aberdeen coach Ron Petrey played all 14 on his squad, and 13 scored, headed by junior E.J. Henderson with 15, his lowest total of the season.
"Urbana ran its offense, didn't try to do anything it couldn't, and forced us to make mistakes," Petrey said. "We have to run and rebound to be effective, and when we don't we are a different team altogether."
Pub Date: 12/27/96