Against most teams in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference, an eight-point lead with 4 1/2 minutes left in a game is no comfort zone. Against defense-oriented Seton Keough, that edge gave No. 6 Roland Park a little breathing room last night.
Although the No. 10 Gators managed to cut the lead in half, they could not get closer as Roland Park hit 14 of 17 free throws down the stretch for a 45-34 victory in an A Conference tournament semifinal at Seton Keough. The Reds (22-5) advanced to meet No. 2 and defending champ St. Frances for the title Sunday at 5 p.m. at Villa Julie College.
Audie Fugett completed a three-point play, Brittney Kalkstein converted a steal and Breyana Hall hit four free throws, the last two with 4:27 left in the game, to give the Reds a 34-26 lead.
"They don't score points in bunches," said Reds coach Scott Buckley of the Gators, who never scored more than four unanswered points last night and also didn't have a field goal for nearly a nine-minute stretch in the middle of the game.
"Once we got some separation, even if we had a couple possessions where we wouldn't score, they weren't going to score eight-10 real quickly. That gave us a chance to be a little bit more relaxed."
While the Gators (18-7) don't light up the scoreboard often, they give opponents fits with their defense. This season, the Gators went 12-0 when they held opponents to 40 points or less.
Fugett had no trouble believing that. "Usually, teams have a hard time matching up against us, so they usually go in a zone and they force us to shoot from outside, but this team goes man-to-man strong full court the whole game."
As for the Reds' defensive strategy, they wanted to shut down the Gators' three-point shooters. With a man-to-man defense to match the Gators', Roland Park allowed only one three-pointer, from Kelly O'Connell, early on. Kalkstein and Amanda Hessinger shut out Gators long-distance star Heather Galvin.
Seton Keough stayed close until late in the game, thanks in part to a big game from sophomore Haliena Snowden, who had 12 points and eight rebounds. Kalkstein led the Reds with 14 points.
"We've played against some of the people from Roland Park throughout the years in AAU and stuff. We match up really well with them," said Gators senior point guard Kristin McLaughlin, whose three assists brought her season total to 100.