Top-ranked McDonogh finished an exhausting run past its three highest ranked opponents with a 49-41 victory over No. 3 Seton Keough yesterday.
In the last nine days, all the Eagles have done is polish off No. 4 Roland Park, 50-32, on Jan. 5, No. 2 St. Mary's, 62-54, on Monday, and now the Gators. Any could have snatched away the top spot. Instead, the Eagles (16-0) secured their spot as the state's No. 1 team.
"The kids love coming out and playing these games every day," said McDonogh coach Katie Keating, whose team also threw in a 64-57 win over Bryn Mawr Saturday. "It's been a killer stretch for us. I am absolutely happy to be through with that stretch."
The victory ran the Eagles' winning streak to 34 games dating back to mid-December 1997. The last Baltimore team to beat the Eagles? The Gators, 54-45, in McDonogh's gym on Dec. 13, 1996.
Yesterday, the Gators (11-3) had the upset in sight until Eagles guard Jazmine Norton put the game out of reach in the final 30 seconds. Norton, who scored 11, raced ahead for a layup off Katie Nelson's half-court inbound pass for a 48-38 lead.
"We saw they were going to full-court press us," said Norton. "I looked at Katie, she looked at me, and I just went long."
Early, the Gators set the pace for a low-scoring game that favored the upset with an intense man-to-man defense and a patient offense that milked the 30-second shot clock. Although McDonogh jumped out to an 8-0 lead, the Gators quickly recovered and held a slight edge most of the second quarter.
The Eagles, who often shoot 50 to 60 percent, shot just 28 percent from the field in the first half and 35 percent for the game. The Gators shot 16 fewer times but made 44 percent of their attempts.
Vicki Brick, the 1997-98 All-Metro Player of the Year who led the Eagles with 21 points, said her team was not patient on offense.
"In our motion offense, they were sagging in the middle and switching on the picks," said Brick. "It was hard for us to get open shots, because they knew where we were cutting to. We weren't reading the defense that well in the first half."
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Eagles' lead was only four points, 30-26, but they extended it with a 13-5 run.
Aisha Mason's 18-footer gave McDonogh a 43-31 lead with 2: 48 to go, but the Gators weren't through. Sarah Walsh took over inside, scoring on a feed from Denise King, a free throw, and one of her three offensive rebounds -- all within 30 seconds -- to bring the Gators within 43-38.
During that stretch, the Eagles lost 6-2 center Greichaly Cepero with her fifth foul. Cepero, who finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and two assists, had been dominant inside in the second half.
Still, the Eagles began to pull away as Brick and Mason combined for four free throws and Nelson and Norton combined for the key long-distance pass.
The Gators tried five three-pointers in the final minute but hit only one -- Meaghan Allan's only field goal of the night -- to pull within 48-41 with 17 seconds left.
All-Metro guard King led the Gators with 11 points.
It didn't help the Gators to have to play without 5-10 forward Laura Stromberg, who will have X-rays today to determine whether a previous foot injury is a sprain or a break.
Pub Date: 1/14/99