Panthers survive slow start to move on to IAAM A final
Roland Park battles after 2 earlier blowout losses
St. Frances had little trouble with Roland Park during the team’s regularseason games, beating the Reds by 39 and 27 points. But when the two teams met in the playoffs Thursday night at St. Frances, it was a much different story.
Aniya Gourdine scored a game-high 22 points while Angel Reese finished with 18 plus 10 rebounds as No. 3 St. Frances rallied from a slow start and then held off No. 9 Roland Park 51-48 in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference semifinals.
St. Frances (24-3) will go for a fifth consecutive conference title in the championship game Sunday at Stevenson. The Panthers meet St. Vincent Pallotti, who edged No. 5 McDonogh, 46-44, on Thursday, in a 6 p.m. game Sunday.
This game was a rematch of last year’s A Conference championship game, which St. Frances won after Roland Park topped the Panthers twice in the regular season. But after the easy regular-season victories this year, St. Frances fell behind by11 in the first quarter, couldn’t get its offense in gear and struggled.
“Give kudos to [Roland Park], they came out really strong,” St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton said. “This is playoff basketball and nobody wants to go home.”
Roland Park (15-11) took a 19-9 lead after one but Shelton stepped up the pressure on defense late in that first period. The Panthers used a full-court type of pressure defense that stopped the Reds from getting the wide-open shots they found throughout the opening quarter.
The game slowly turned in the second quarter. That defensive pressure helped
St. Frances outscore Roland Park 23-8 in the quarter and grab a 32-27 halftime lead. The Panthers kept contesting the Reds bringing the ball up the floor, making passes and taking shots, and that wore down Roland Park at times.
Also in the first quarter, St. Frances barely got the ball to Reese, who often was double-teamed. The Maryland-bound senior finished the period with one point and one rebound but the Panthers began feeding her more in the second quarter. Reese notched nine points as St. Frances took the lead.
“We came out rough,” Reese said. “We’re not a first-half team. It was the defense that changed the game.”
Mir McLean (16 points, nine rebounds) made a number of big plays inside for the Reds, but the defensive pressure bothered them in the next two quarters. Still, Roland Park rallied in the third quarter after falling down by 13. The Reds got 3s from Myah Simmons and Cameron Levine and cut the lead to 43-38 heading into the fourth quarter.
The game stayed close the rest of the way with the biggest play being a Gourdine three-point play with 42.9 seconds left that gave the Panthers a 51-45 lead. Reese came out to the high post and made a perfect back-door pass to Gourdine for the basket, and she added the free throw.
“I just know to keep moving, and I know she’ll find me,” said Gourdine, who made a number of key baskets.”
Even though the Reds came up short, coach Dani Steinbach was thrilled with her team’s work in this game.
“I could not be more proud of the effort from our team,” Steinbach said. “They did everything we asked them to do. It was right there [late in the game].”