With five starters missing between the two teams, it seemed yesterday's Seton Keough-Milford Mill game might be remembered for the players who weren't there rather than for those who were.
Itxaso Mallaviabarrena made sure that didn't happen.
The six-foot exchange student from Spain scored 27 points to lead the No. 2 Gators to a 57-47 victory over the No. 8 Millers. She scored all 13 of the host Gators' first-quarter points and finished with nine rebounds and four assists.
The Gators (23-5) needed a big day from the senior guard because they were playing without their junior class, all of whom were on retreat. All four -- Denise King, Meaghan Allan, Nikki Brown and Laura Stromberg -- start or see significant action.
King, an All-Metro guard who also missed last week's John Carroll game because she was sick, Allan and Brown are among the Gators' best ballhandlers and outside shooters. Without them, Seton Keough figured to be at a disadvantage in the backcourt against Milford Mill's stellar duo of Mandy Clark and Quante Toney.
The two missing Millers were from inside -- 6-0 Chante Alexander, who sprained a knee in Saturday's Baltimore County championship game, and 6-1 Kara Peterkin, who has missed several games for undisclosed reasons. Without those two, neither team appeared to have an inside edge.
But with 6-1 Sarah Walsh contributing nine points, four assists and 15 rebounds, and Mallaviabarrena and Keisha Blackwell (13 points, four steals) picking up the slack on the perimeter, the Gators more than made up for their losses.
"Those kids really stepped up," said Gators coach Jim Stromberg. "Keisha hit the big shots and Itxaso really improved. She made some baskets on the move and that really helped her confidence. And Sarah sets the tone for us."
Early on, the Gators needed every Mallaviabarrena point to keep pace with the Millers. They held onto a 25-23 lead at the break.
Clark, who also scored 27, made a 20-footer to open the second half, but that was the Millers' last lead.
Milford Mill (19-4) turned the ball over on three of its next four possessions to help the Gators roll to a 13-0 run. Blackwell scored eight in the spurt, including two three-pointers, and Mallaviabarrena fed Sara Franz for a 15-footer to take a 39-26 lead with 1: 09 left in the third quarter.
Milford Mill coach Pam Wright, whose team also lost to Seton Keough when both teams were at full strength, 49-24 in a December holiday tournament, was at a loss to explain her team's lack of fire.
"It was like this last year," said Wright. "After we won the county championship, I told them, 'Don't have it in the back of your minds that, win or lose, this game won't do anything for you.' This is a chance for bragging rights, for all kinds of things, psychological pluses and everything. We needed to win this game."
Pub Date: 2/24/99