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McDonogh's finishing touch tumbles St. Mary's, 63-54; No. 1 Eagles control fourth quarter to win battle of unbeatens


Better than advertised.

The top-ranked McDonogh girls went into No. 2 St. Mary's tiny, packed gym in Annapolis yesterday afternoon and passed their toughest test to date, taking a page out of the homestanding Saints' book with a dominating fourth quarter to come away with a 63-54 win in a battle of unbeatens.

The Eagles (15-0) won for the 33rd straight time dating to last season, further strengthening their status as the state's best team. The Saints -- unable to find the fourth-quarter magic they've enjoyed all season -- fell to 12-1.

With the game tied at 42 going into the fourth quarter, senior center Greichaly Cepero, a transfer from Puerto Rico, and senior guard Vicki Brick, last year's All-Metro Player of the Year, scored the Eagles' first 14 points of the period to build a 54-44 lead, with their strong team defense taking care of the rest to separate No. 1 from No. 2.

"This was very hard," said the 6-foot-2 Cepero, who scored all 14 of her points in the second half, including 10 in the pivotal fourth quarter. "They had the home court and great fans. It was a lot of pressure for us, but we know how to handle it. We went out and played our game. [St. Mary's] is a very good team and we had to play all the way to the end."

That is what the Saints, who start five seniors including three four-year standouts, were counting on.

The fourth quarter is when the Saints' experience and poise usually take over. Those traits were most evident in a 68-67 victory over highly touted Largo to win the prestigious IAABO Invitational Tournament two weeks ago, when they came back from a 16-point deficit.

Not yesterday.

"Our kids played well, McDonogh just beat us," said St. Mary's coach Harry Dobson. "They were the better team -- particularly in the fourth quarter. You can't live on the edge all the time."

The Saints climbed out of a 31-24 halftime deficit to take a 42-40 lead in the closing minute of the third quarter behind balanced scoring and a remarkable 17-for-18 effort from the free-throw line. St. Mary's grabbed a two-point lead early in the final period, but two unproductive and impatient offensive series did the Saints in, as Cepero and Brick went to work at the other end.

The Eagles went inside to Cepero, who also finished with 11 rebounds, on three straight successful possessions to start a 12-2 run that provided the Eagles with the game's first double-digit lead at 54-44. The Saints never got closer than seven the rest of the way.

Brick (22 points, eight rebounds) showed her Player of the Year form throughout, hitting 11 of 13 shots from the field, including four straight jumpers in the second quarter to boost the Eagles to a seven-point halftime lead.

In the fourth, she twice went inside to pull down key offensive rebounds that she converted into easy put-backs.

"Down the stretch, I think we just dug down deep and told ourselves we wanted to win this game," Brick said. "I don't think we ever doubted ourselves. We were able to go out there and relax, knowing what we needed to do. These are the type of games you live for. You just go out there, enjoy and cherish the moment. That's why I play ball and you couldn't have asked for a better matchup."

Sophomore guard Katie Nelson (17 points) also played a big role in the Eagles' win, hitting consecutive three-pointers to open the game and leading the defensive stand with her work on St. Mary's senior Maria Smear, who finished with 10 points.

The Saints got a 16-point performance from senior guard Emily Lipton, with fellow senior Terri Daniels adding 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

Pub Date: 1/12/99

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