The Archbishop Spalding boys basketball team overcame a slow and ugly start to defeat red-hot St. Frances, 62-59, in a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinal yesterday at Spalding.
The win puts No. 3 Spalding (24-6) into tomorrow's title game against No. 2 Cardinal Gibbons, which beat top-ranked Mount St. Joseph, 60-51, in yesterday's other semifinal.
But it didn't come without an early scare for the host Cavaliers, who nearly came unraveled after falling behind by 13 points in the first half.
"I wouldn't call it panic, but we were definitely frustrated," said Spalding forward Rudy Gay, who finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds.
"We had to settle down, take our shots and make good decisions. I don't think we were in control of our emotions ... and we weren't playing like a team."
It was teamwork, along with 9-for-12 shooting from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, that secured the victory. Spalding trimmed a nine-point halftime deficit to one point to start the final quarter, then used a 12-5 surge to take command at 51-45.
No. 4 St. Frances (23-6), which entered the game on an eight-game winning streak, never regained the lead, despite twice trimming the margin to one point. Gordon Brown hit a 25-foot three-pointer with 24 seconds remaining to make it 58-57, but Gay responded with a three-point play to get the lead back to four with 17 seconds left.
The Panthers had a chance to force overtime at the buzzer, but Darron Edwards' desperation three-point try was off the mark.
St. Frances seemed to have forgotten about a pair of earlier losses to the Cavaliers. They moved to a 16-13 lead after eight minutes, then quickly expanded it to 30-17 behind senior center Gordon Chase (nine points).
But late in the half, Spalding switched to a trapping defense and scored four straight points to trim the lead to nine and take momentum into halftime.