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No. 1 Roland Park cruises past Pallotti to IAAM A basketball title game

Mir McLean scored 19 points against Pallotti to help Roland Park advance to the IAAM A Conference championship game.
Mir McLean scored 19 points against Pallotti to help Roland Park advance to the IAAM A Conference championship game. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Roland Park’s defense proved to be a puzzle that Pallotti could not solve, especially in the first half Friday night. The Reds hounded the Panthers’ offense, held them to only two baskets and seven points while building up a 30-point halftime lead.

That pretty much removed any suspense in this contest. Ja’Niah Henson scored a game-high 20 points, and Mir McLean added 19 points and 10 rebounds as top-ranked Roland Park rolled to a 58-28 victory over visiting Pallotti in an Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference semifinal.

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That gives Roland Park (26-1) a chance to win its first championship in school history. The Reds will meet No. 2 St. Frances on Sunday at 6 p.m. at Stevenson in the title game, and those Panthers are the three-time defending conference champs. Roland Park and St. Frances are the top two seeds in the A Conference.

Winning the first championship was what Roland Park wanted from the beginning this season. New coach Dani Steinbach, who played on the 2004 team that lost in the finals, said her team focused on this all season long.

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“You’ve got to set your sites high,” she said. “I’m so happy for them.”

The Reds had lost in the A Conference semifinals to McDonogh each of the past three years, and they also wanted to clear that hurdle.

“We just had a lot of energy,” McLean said. “The past three years, we’ve had to play McDonogh in the semifinals, and it’s all gone the same way. We were overly excited…and that helped us.”

By the time No. 4 seed Pallotti scored its first basket, Roland Park already had raced to an 18-2 lead. That basket came on Makayla Waleed layup with 1:15 left in the first quarter.

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The second period saw more of the same as the first Panther bucket was a Waleed lay-up with 1:10 remaining. Roland Park held a 37-7 lead at the break.

Pallotti simply could not find good shots or get open long enough. The Reds were all over the ball and the court and also forced 10 first-half turnovers, many of which led to scoring chances and/or points.

“It’s one of those nights where they made us uncomfortable,” Pallotti coach Joe Mathews said. “We were a little rattled coming out in the beginning. It’s hard to win when you’re missing layups and jump-shots.”

The Reds also found success on offense thanks to quick movement of the ball and good rebounding. Chris Robinson scored four points, but she pulled down 16 rebounds, some of which helped Roland Park get second chances.

That ball movement often led to wide-open shots from the outside for players like Henson. The guard made five 3-pointers and scored 18 of her 20 in the first half as Reds turned this one into a rout.

“We were executing our plays, and we knew it was important to keep the ball out of the corners where they would trap,” Henson said.

Now comes St. Frances, who Roland Park has already beaten twice this season. The Reds talked after the game about wanting to make history. This will be their fifth IAAM championship appearance (there were three in the old AIS), and Steinbach said they’re hoping the eighth trip to the finals will be special.

“I feel really confident we’re going to show up,” Steinbach said. “To win on Sunday, we’re going to have to earn it."

P- Waleed 5, Smith 4, Hall 10, Brown-Stangherlin 1, Valentine 4, L. Thweatt 1, N. Thweatt 3. Totals: 8 12-20 28.

RP- McLean 19, Henson 20, Ferariu 8, Shaw 2, Levine 5, C. Robinson 4. Totals. 23 5-8 58. Half: RP, 37-7.

No. 2 St. Frances 61, No. 3 McDonogh 56: Angel Reese scored 22 points while teammate Aniya Gourdine added 21 to help St. Frances (22-3) outlast visiting McDonogh (20-7) in the other IAAM A Conference semifinal. The Panthers beat McDonogh on the road when they met last Friday, and this was a rematch of the last three title games -- each won by St. Frances.

The Havre de Grace boys basketball team won its 19th straight game Thursday night and it was a bit easier than many might have expected.
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