St. Frances defeats McDonogh, 50-44, in girls basketball to wrap up No. 2 IAAM playoff seed

For The Baltimore Sun

St. Frances locked up the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference tournament on Friday night.

It just wasn’t an easy task.

Angel Reese scored 20 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter, as second-ranked St. Frances held off a second-half comeback from No. 3 McDonogh and hung on for a 50-44 victory.

St. Frances (18-3, 11-2 IAAM A) has won the conference tournament the last three years but No. 1 Roland Park already locked up the top seed this season. The tournament begins next week and, weather permitting, the championship game is scheduled for Feb. 17.

In this game, visiting St. Frances led most of the way on a night when both teams struggled shooting and had foul trouble. Still, the Panthers seemed in control with a 34-20 lead with just under two minutes left in the third quarter. The Panthers then made three turnovers late in the period that seemed to help spark McDonogh (19-5, 10-4).

“I think we got a little careless with the ball, and that allowed them to make some plays,” St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton said.

Aleah Nelson scored a game-high 22 points and led the Eagles’ run. She drilled two 3s and sank two free throws in the final 1 minute, 45 seconds of the third quarter that started a 14-0 McDonogh run.

AJ Davis (18 points) made four consecutive free throws that put the Eagles in front 36-35 with 5:21 left. Reese and the Panthers then slowly took over.

Reese made a running left-handed jumper as part of a three-point play that gave St. Frances a 38-36 lead. McDonogh tied it once more on a Nelson 3, but Madyson Hinton came up with two key offensive rebounds, got fouled on the second one, and made two free throws that put the Panthers in front for good at 41-39.

After that, St. Frances won it with defense and free-throw shooting. Aniya Gourdine (19 points) made a key steal, and moments later the Panthers drew a charge. Reese pulled down an offensive rebound and got fouled but hit both free throws for a 43-40 lead.

Gourdine and Reese both picked up their fourth fouls in the fourth quarter and needed to play carefully, which slowed St. Frances a bit.

Nelson, who scored eight in the fourth quarter, got her final basket on a layup, which cut the lead to 43-42 with 1:33 left. St. Frances then made seven free throws – four coming from Reese – and closed it with two from Gourdine in the final seconds.

“It’s just great [for our] confidence,” Reese said. “We’re getting ready for the playoffs. It’s really about the team. Nobody cares about their statistics; we’re really just trying to win.”

McDonogh tried also but a slow start on offense hurt the Eagles. St. Frances took a 13-3 lead early and was up 21-12 at halftime as McDonogh scored only one point in the second quarter.

The Eagles scored 32 in the second half as Nelson heated up, and their defense did a good job of harassing St. Frances. McDonogh coach Brad Rees liked how his defense helped bring the team back in the final two quarters after the one-point second period.

“We completely broke down on offense in the second quarter,” Rees said. “We [live off] of our defense. That’s kind of our M.O.”

The Eagles held the Panthers without a basket for nearly six minutes while making that late run. Nelson was the key and said she wanted to do something to give McDonogh a push.

“I was like ‘I’ve got to step up [now],” Nelson said.

She did just that, but the Eagles couldn't quite finish the job.

SF- Gourdine 19, Reese 20, Hughes 5, Humphrey 1, M. Hinton 5. Totals: 14 18-28 50.

M- Nelson 22, Valdez 2, Davis 18, Mitchell 2. Totals: 15 10-16 44. Half: SF, 21-12.

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