HAGERSTOWN -- There's a good reason why the old auditorium at St. Maria Goretti High School has long been considered the toughest place to win in the Catholic League. Opposing teams must first endure a nearly two-hour bus ride before encountering vocal fans, cramped quarters and one of Western Maryland's perennial basketball powers.
Yesterday, top-ranked Towson Catholic, and particularly guard Keith Jenifer, made the task seem easy.
In a game in which the Owls never trailed, the speedy Jenifer had a game-high 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds in a 64-49 win that allowed Towson Catholic to clinch the regular-season league title.
After Goretti -- a 30-win team this season -- had cut the lead to four midway through the third quarter, Jenifer put the Owls (24-5, 13-1 in the Catholic League) on his back, using his dribble to break down the defense and scoring 15 in the final 12: 07.
"He controlled the game today," said longtime Goretti coach Cokey Robertson. "He just broke us down, and if he didn't score he made the right passes. We couldn't stop him."
Said Jenifer: "I felt like everything I shot was going in, so my coach told me to take them. We just wanted to win this one."
And from the opening tip, the Owls played like it, using their superior quickness and pass-oriented offense to score nine of the first 12 points, building a nine-point lead midway through the second quarter and rolling to their 15th straight victory.
Paced by Jenifer and Gil Goodrich (13 points) on the perimeter, as well as center Thabo Lesebe, who dominated the middle when not in foul trouble, the Owls shot 56 percent for the game. The Gaels (30-5, 10-4), led by 6-foot-6 sophomore Ryan Devlin (11 points), cut the lead to one in the early moments of the third quarter, but Towson Catholic then scored 10 of the next 12 points to pull away.
"This was a total team effort," said Owls coach Mike Daniel. "It's tough winning on their home floor -- Cokey Robertson does as good a job as any high school coach in the country -- so I feel pretty good about this one."
The Owls' next task is to win the Catholic League Tournament, which begins Saturday at the Towson Center. If play goes according to form, a date in the finals with No. 4 Archbishop Spalding -- the team that last defeated them, 71-68, on Jan. 15 -- could be in the works.
Pub Date: 2/22/99