If there were any doubts that Mercy deserved the area's No. 1 ranking, the Magic erased them last night.
Devastating defense and a terrific performance from senior point guard Shannon Cohen led the host Magic to a 51-35 victory over No. 3 Seton Keough.
Mercy's 10th straight win avenged an earlier loss to Seton Keough and could help pull the Magic into an eventual tie for the Catholic League's regular-season championship. The Gators (18-3 overall, 11-2 league) still hold a slight edge over the Magic (19-2, 10-2) in the league race, only because they have played one more game.
Two weeks ago, Mercy avenged its only other loss, to No. 2 St. Mary's. Even though the Magic did not play last week, they assumed the No. 1 ranking when then-No. 3 St. Mary's defeated then-No. 1 Seton Keough.
"This is just our way of showing everybody that we should be there -- and not just by default," said Cohen, who finished with 13 points, seven steals and four assists. "In the beginning of the season, the games were close against Seton Keough and St. Mary's, and we had to prove to everyone that we could beat those teams. Now, we've proven that this is where we belong."
Last night, Cohen led a first-quarter charge that sent the Gators reeling from an 18-1 Mercy run that dropped them into an 11-point hole in the first 7 1/2 minutes.
Cohen, a second-team All-Metro pick, had three steals, three assists and seven points in the quarter. The Magic's defense swarmed the Gators, and they turned the ball over eight times, mostly against the press, hitting only one of 12 shots in the quarter.
Cohen's three-point play gave the Magic an 18-7 lead with 27 seconds left in the quarter.
"In the first quarter, she was the difference," said Seton Keough coach Jim Stromberg. "She made some great decisions, to keep the ball or to get the ball to kids who were open in position where they could score."
Things never got any better for the Gators as Mercy widened the lead to 38-19 by the third quarter.
The Magic's pressure and man-to-man defense kept the Gators off balance the entire game. Seton Keough had no players score in double figures. Nessa Klein scored eight and three others finished with five points each.
"We had the same problems we had against St. Mary's," said Stromberg, whose squad fell, 59-48, to the Saints last week. "Their intensity made us go quicker than we needed to. We held them in the 50s, but their defense was much better. Our kids played hard, but I'm not sure they always played smart."
When the two teams met before, Mercy's inside threats Jamie Vogtman and Adrienne DiPietro got into foul trouble and had to sit out much of the second half. This time, however, the duo stayed in the game and dominated the offensive boards. Even though each team ended up with 41 rebounds, the Magic had numerous second and third chances.
Vogtman finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and five steals while DiPietro added seven points and 12 rebounds.
The Magic also hit from outside, where Katie Schuyler (nine points) had two three-pointers.
Pub Date: 2/15/97