It's playoff time in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference, which means one thing at St. Frances: The No. 2 Lady Panthers are playing their best ball of the season.
More proof came yesterday, when the Panthers used quick hands on defense, a hot hand early on offense and a dominating rebounding performance to take charge against visiting McDonogh and come away with a comfortable 69-43 semifinal victory that sent them back to the championship game.
The Panthers (23-3) will try to make it two straight and three titles in four years on Sunday, when they face No. 6 Roland Park - a 45-34 winner over No. 10 Seton Keough in yesterday's other semifinal. Game time at Villa Julie College is 5 p.m.
McDonogh coach Tom Gizzi watched his No. 11 Eagles (19-6) play hard, but they were unable to find the answers to keep up.
"I'll tell you what, that's the best I've seen anybody in our conference play all year," he said of the Panthers. "They came out with a lot of respect for McDonogh because of the first time we played them [a 54-44 St. Frances win] and played a great game."
The Panthers made their first four shots. They also limited the Eagles to 2-for-10 shooting and forced 10 turnovers in a first quarter that ended with the home team ahead 19-5.
McDonogh got the deficit under 10 only once, when Anastasia Wynn hit two free throws with 5:15 left in the third quarter to cut the lead to 33-24. But the Panthers ran off six straight points.
All-Metro senior guard Angel McCoughtry, who finished with 26 points, said the fast start was just what the Panthers were looking for.
"We came out and rebounded, got some turnovers, and that really helped our fast break," she said. "We were also able to go inside a little bit, because we had a little more size than them."
The Eagles were coming off a win over No. 3 Institute of Notre Dame in the quarterfinals but couldn't pull off the second straight upset despite 13 points from Dominque Damico and 11 from senior Rachel Braver.