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With heavy hearts, No. 5 Pallotti girls basketball wins one for its coach

Pallotti played with plenty of intensity throughout Thursday night's matchup with visiting St. Frances. The Panthers contested every shot, battled for each rebound and chased down loose balls all over the court.

They brought special motivation to this Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference game. Coach Rod Hairston's mother had died earlier in the week, and No. 5 Pallotti was unsure whether he'd be at the game. But Hairston did show up, and his team pulled out a 53-45 victory over No. 6 St. Frances.

This victory essentially locked up the No. 3 seed in the A Conference for Pallotti (12-6, 9-4) over St. Frances (13-9, 7-6). However, Pallotti's players wanted this win more for their coach than anything else.

Kaiya Coleman led Pallotti — both teams are the Panthers — with 15 points while teammate Beverly Ogunrinde added 14 points and 12 rebounds. Both seniors said the team wanted to win to give Hairston something positive in his time of grief.

"That was all of the motivation for us," Coleman said. "We wanted this to be the last thing for his worries. We did what we were supposed to do."

Ogunrinde said she hoped this win helped relieve some of Hairston's stress.

"Coach Hairston is always lifting us up," she said. "I felt like today was more of a give-back game. He is a huge rock for us."

Coleman and Ogunrinde controlled play for Pallotti inside and out, respectively. The game remained close throughout a sloppy first half until Coleman took over in the final minute.

Pallotti held an 18-17 lead when Coleman scored seven straight points in the final 50 seconds before halftime. She nailed a 3-pointer with 50 seconds left, followed that with two free throws and finished with a soft floater at the buzzer that gave Pallotti a 25-17 edge.

Coleman stepped up late in the quarter as Ogunrinde sat out the final six minutes of the half in foul trouble. Ogunrinde, headed for James Madison next season, then took over early in the third quarter as Pallotti broke the game open.

She scored eight points in the first five minutes as Pallotti stretched its lead to 37-25. The Panthers pushed the advantage to 16 later in the quarter and remained in command until St. Frances scored 10 straight points to make it 47-43 with 1:15 left in the game.

But Pallotti scored six of the game's final eight points to lock up the win.

Key to Pallotti were its defensive intensity and tough play inside. St. Frances, led by Tyeisha Smith's 19 points, repeatedly had problems moving the ball against Pallotti's tough zone and often couldn't find good shots. St. Frances constantly struggled to find high-percentage shots.

Pallotti's intensity proved too much.

"Our shot selection did help us," St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton said. "They contested every shot. I thought they had a little bit more urgency on defense than we did."

That urgency was understandable, considering what the Pallotti team felt it was playing for on this night. This one was for its coach.

"We wanted him to have peace of mind," Ogunrinde said.

Pallotti 53, St. Frances 45

S- Smith 19, Jackson 9, Coleman 4, Carroll 1, Alexander 9, Lewis 3. Totals: 14 12-22 45.

P- Coleman 15, Eldridge 5, Chaney 9, Nolan 4, Ogunrinde 14, Johnson 2, Whitehead 4. Totals: 16 20-29 53. Halftime: P, 25-17.

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