In the five years Seton Keough's Jim Stromberg has coached in the Catholic League, no team has won both the regular- season and tournament titles in the same season. His Gators are one step away from pulling it off.
Regular-season champions at 14-2, the No. 2 Gators (25-5) advanced to today's 3: 30 p.m. Catholic League tournament final with a 57-41 triumph over No. 11 John Carroll in yesterday's semifinals at the Towson Center.
Seton Keough, last year's tournament champion, faces No. 6 St. Mary's, a 66-48 winner over No. 7 Mercy in the other semifinal.
St. Mary's was upset by Mercy in last season's semifinals after winning the regular-season crown with a 14-0 mark. The Saints, who split with Seton Keough in league action, now stand in the way of the Gators accomplishing what they couldn't a year ago.
"It would be great to do it [win both in same season], " said Stromberg. "But we will have to play harder [today] if we're going to win."
The Gators got 12 points from Jackie Valderas and 11 points and five rebounds from Denise King.
Six-foot Spanish exchange student Itxaso Mallaviabarrena, Meaghan Allan and Sarah Walsh (game-high nine rebounds) scored nine points each for the Gators, who had to play a strong second half for the victory.
John Carroll (14-12) hung with Keough through the first three quarters. The score was tied at 14 after the first period and the Patriots trailed by eight at the half, 30-22, and after 24 minutes at 39-31.
"Our defense was awful in the first half and it might have been because the kids were a little bit intimidated by the surroundings," said Stromberg.
"But we went to a 3-2 defense, something we don't use too often, in the second half and we were a little more patient offensively."
The Gators didn't rush their shots as much and their patience was rewarded with 19 trips to the foul line, where they converted 15 times in the second half. Seton Keough had no free-throw attempts in the first half.
An 8-2 run to start the final quarter -- with the Gators converting eight of nine from the line, pushed their lead to 47-33.
The closest John Carroll got the rest of the way was 49-37 on a basket by Darby Burke (seven points) with four minutes left.
No. 6 St. Mary's 66, No. 7 Mercy 48: St. Mary's got 23 points from seniors Terri Daniels (14) and Emily Lipton to take the upper hand by 30-22 at the break. The Saints (26-7) started the second half with a 15-3 run on the way to their 18-point victory.
It was pretty much a rerun of their 64-47 rout of the Magic (21-12) in their last regular-season meeting after it took overtime for the Saints to take the first meeting.
St. Mary's fast break was ignited by Felicia Holloway, its 6-2 senior center, propelling them to a 20-point lead at 54-34 through three quarters.
After scoring only four points and grabbing three rebounds in the first half, Holloway asserted herself in the third quarter. Holloway grabbed six of her game-high nine rebounds and scored 10 of her 16 points.
"Holloway dominated in the third, " said St. Mary's coach Harry Dobson, whose team has won five league and three tournament titles in his tenure.
"She [Holloway] was the key, controlling the boards the way she did."
Daniels, who finished with a game-high 20 points for the Saints, agreed with her coach.
"We have a great outside game, but when Felicia steps up like that, our inside game makes us that much tougher, " said Daniels, one of three current Saints who have scored 1,000 career points (Lipton and Maria Smear are the others).
Lipton was the third Saint in double digits with 17 points and had four assists as St. Mary's avenged last season's tournament loss to the Magic.
"We really wanted them [Mercy], " said Daniels, who added that recent problems with the Saints' team chemistry are history.
Pub Date: 2/28/99