Over the course of its long, sometimes bumpy season, one thing has remained a constant for No. 6-ranked St. Mary's -- free-throw shooting.
Battling a young and determined St. Frances team yesterday afternoon in Annapolis, the Saints got two free throws from senior guard Emily Lipton with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter to sneak past the No. 10 Panthers, 63-61.
The win avenged last Wednesday's 70-61 loss to St. Frances in Baltimore as both teams closed out their Catholic League regular-season schedule.
The Saints are 23-6 overall and 13-3 in league play, earning the second seed to open the Catholic League Tournament at home next Friday against the Institute of Notre Dame. St. Frances (19-8, 9-7) finished as the fifth seed and will visit No. 7 Mercy (19-11, 10-6) one week from today.
After watching the Panthers climb out of an 11-point deficit to take a 46-45 lead on freshman guard Kia Coady's short jumper with five seconds left in the third quarter, the Saints' work at the line provided the difference.
They hit 20 of 22 for the game and went 8-for-8 in the pivotal fourth quarter, needing them all to turn back a St. Frances team that answered basket for basket until Lipton's final two that found nothing but net.
"We spend a lot of time in practice on free throws and it shows. It's important for us to take the ball to the basket, because we know we'll make our foul shots," said St. Mary's coach Harry Dobson.
"St. Frances has our number. We went up 11 [in the third quarter] and then came right back and went ahead. You have to give credit to [coach Jerome Shelton] for getting his kids to be able to do that being so young."
Lipton finished with 21 points and eight assists, including consecutive feeds after drives to set up Maria Smear and Amy Mulligan with easy lay-ins to help provide a 53-48 lead with 5: 57 left.
The Saints led 59-53 with 2: 41 left before Shanell Watson (23 points) went to work for the Panthers, hitting a three-pointer and then scoring off a drive to tie the game at 59.
After Lipton's free throws with 15 seconds left, the Panthers had one last possession but couldn't answer with Tiffany Jackson's short baseline jumper in and out and Watson's follow inside also off the mark.
"We wanted to stay close and we did that with the valiant effort in the third quarter. Then we traded baskets in the fourth, had some good looks [in the last possession], but it didn't happen. I'm proud of the team," said Shelton, whose roster is dominated by underclassmen.
Smear finished with her second double-double in as many days, scoring 16 points with 11 rebounds for the Saints.
Shanika Wallace scored 12 for the Panthers with Coady adding 10.
Pub Date: 2/19/99