St. Frances defeats McDonogh to win the IAAM A Conference high school girls basketball campionship. (Katherine Dunn, Baltimore Sun video)
Like many St. Frances seniors before her, Mia Davis kept a tight hold on the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship trophy Sunday night.
The 6-foot, All-Metro forward and her No. 1 Panthers had just defeated No. 2 McDonogh, 56-47, to win their second straight championship at Stevenson University and boost their record to 27-0.
"I'm very honored to be here with this," Davis said. "It feels very great to win another championship to end my senior year. I was just happy and I don't know — everything. It was just a good moment."
The Panthers used their inside-outside offense and a pesky defense to beat the Eagles (24-3) for the third time this season. They won their tenth IAAM title since 2001 to go with Catholic League championships in 1994 and 1995. No other team has won more than three.
The biggest spark came from junior All-Metro guard Nia Clouden, who scored 12 of her 15 points in the second quarter and gave the Panthers their first lead. She had no idea she was close, but she scored her 1,000th point in the game.
"She has a lot of help and it takes a lot of pressure off her," Panthers coach Jerome Shelton said, citing key contributions from players who don't usually make the headlines — Mikiara Carroll, Jattarikah Settle, Kierra Jackson and Delicia Pinnick. "I think Nia recognizes that and I think that's the beauty of her game. She recognizes when it's her turn."
Clouden and Pinnick, who had 10 points, paced the Panthers on the outside while Davis (13 points and eight rebounds), 6-2 freshman Angel Reese (13 points and 10 rebounds), and 6-foot senior Jackson (eight rebounds) controlled the inside.
McDonogh didn't have an answer for the trio, and that kept them from getting many defensive rebounds to turn into transition points, something it has relied on all season.
The Eagles, who have been to the A Conference final six straight times with three titles, got off to a quick start as Kayla Liles powered them to a 14-7 lead. The junior guard scored 12 of those points, including the first 10.
"McDonogh was doing a lot of screening," Davis said. "Sometimes we didn't communicate over the screen so they would get an easy basket."
The Panthers forced five turnovers early in the second quarter and scored off three of them. Clouden gave St. Frances its first lead of the game, 15-14, with 5:27 to go in the second quarter. She led the Panthers on a 13-2 run to open the quarter.
Reese and Pinnick converted steals to boost the lead to 19-14. Jessica Booth hit two free throws for McDonogh before Clouden scored five straight points. Booth and Clouden then traded 3-pointers before Taleah Dixon hit two free throws and fed Booth for a layup to pull the Eagles within 27-23 at the half.
McDonogh would tie the game at 29 on Liles' putback midway through the third quarter, but Reese answered with a three-point play and the Eagles never caught up again.
"We had some breakdowns offensively and defensively today that you just can't do against a great team," Eagles coach Brad Rees said. "Nia Clouden's a great player. The problem with her is she makes the inside threat so much more of a threat. If you focus on the inside threat, she's out there doing her thing and we did not do a very good job with her today."
The Eagles cut the lead to two twice in the fourth quarter. Clouden picked up her fourth foul and sat for a while after Liles' three-point play cut the lead to 42-40, but the Eagles struggled offensively after that.
In the final 4:04, the Panthers pushed with 8-for-10 shooting from the free-throw line.
"We just kept fighting," Clouden said. "They kept making runs and we kept answering. So we just stayed level-headed and kept competing."
This was the Panthers' first undefeated regular season. They will try to complete the winter with the Bishop Walsh Girls Invitational Tournament title when they head to Cumberland on March 2 for the three-day event. The Eagles and No. 9 Seton Keough will also be in the eight-team field.
St. John's Catholic Prep (22-3) won its second straight IAAM B Conference title, 45-39, over No. 15 Mount de Sales, which rallied from early jitters to lead the game with three minutes left.
The Sailors did not hit a field goal until the second quarter, and they didn't lead until the fourth, but they pushed the Vikings, who did not lose a game to a B Conference opponent this season, right to the end.
Kristen Zaranski, who finished with 14 points for the Sailors, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to finish off a 12-1 run and give Mount de Sales (20-6) a 37-32 lead with 5:30 left.
The Vikings answered that with a 6-0 run to take the lead back on Morgan Dombrowski's 3-pointer with 1:28 left. Sydney Skalstad fed Abby Kuhn to pull Mount de Sales within 40-39 with 1:08 to go, but the Vikings scored the final five points of the game. Zaranski's final two 3-point attempts rimmed away.
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Top-seeded St. John's Catholic Prep (21-3) went 12-0 in the conference.
The Sailors, who fell to St. John's 72-44 on Jan. 25, were third-seeded in the tournament, but avenged an early-season three-point loss to second-seeded Institute of Notre Dame with a 51-34 victory in the semifinal to earn a berth in the title game.
Missed opportunities plagued the Sailors, who shot 7-for-17 from the free-throw line. They cut an 11-point Vikings lead to when Zaranski banked in a shot with 2:23 left in the first half.
The Sailors stole the ball three times -- twice by Sophia Stewart -- in the final 50 seconds of the half, but ended up with just one point as they missed four free throws. In the half, they hit just three of 12 foul shots.