Clouden's jumper lifts No. 1 St. Frances past National Christian in OT for program's first perfect regular season (VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS HERE!!)
Jerome Shelton walked out of the St. Frances Academy girls' basketball team locker room in the aftermath of the Panthers' thrilling overtime victory over National Christian Academy Saturday afternoon. He took a seat near the end of St. Frances' bench inside Phelps Gym.
Shelton took a slip from a cup of soda in his hand, closed his eyes and laid his head back. The longtime Panthers coach has experienced many victories - 533 to be exact - but the 75-74 decision was historic.
The No. 1 Panthers completed their first perfect regular season at 25-0. They did it by surviving a National Christian Academy squad from Prince George's County that matched them in quickness, size and tenaciousness.
"I don't usually talk about records, I try to focus more on the process and the journey," said Shelton, who's guided the Panthers program from its infancy in the late 1980s. "That's the most important thing so I can enjoy it and they can enjoy it."
There was jubilation as Nia Clouden's jumper with a second left in overtime gave the defending IAAM A Conference champs from east Baltimore their 35th straight regular season victory. St. Frances, ranked No. 17 in the latest USA Today Super 25, last regular season defeat was to Prince George's County private powerhouse Riverdale Baptist School last January inside Phelps Gym.
The Panthers avenged that loss and a second to the Crusaders at the Bishop Walsh Invitational in Cumberland last March with a victory Monday evening in Upper Marlboro. National Christian Academy from Fort Washington, ranked No. 3 in the District region by the Washington Post, presented a formidable obstacle to St. Frances' pursuit of perfection.
Shelton, whose team has played in nationally-regarded events in the District, New York and New Jersey this season, said Saturday was just part of the "script."
"I had in mind that I wanted to play on the road a lot, then play tough teams like National Christian so we can be prepared going into postseason play," said Shelton. "They're a good team."
"It was a quick pace game, it went back and forth," said Panthers forward Mia Davis. "They were up, then we got up, but we just fought to the end."
Davis, a Temple University recruit, had another double-double for the Panthers with 21 points and 11 rebounds, and freshman Delicia Pennick added 15 points. Mykea Gray finished with a game-high 27 points for National Christian (18-4), and Elizabeth Martino had 15.
Martino, a freshman, dropped a 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime at 67-67. National Christian Academy led 72-69 with 2:22 left in the extra session on a 3-point play from Gray, a Miami signee and reigning Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year.
Gray was denied by Clouden on a drive to the basket, leading to a Davis' breakaway layup, making it 72-71. Gray was fouled by Mikaira Carroll on a drive in the lane and hit two free throws for a 74-71 advantage with 50.5 seconds remaining.
Carroll, one of five seniors honored before the match, finished a drive with 37.4 seconds left in overtime. St. Frances immediately called timeout.
Carroll, who nearly stole the ball from Gray, was able to come from behind and get the ball from the star guard as she went into the lane. Carroll sent the ball upcourt to Clouden, who was stopped going up to the basket and the ball was ruled off a National Christian player before going out of bounds with 5.2 seconds left.
After a St. Frances timeout, senior Kierra Jackson sent an entry pass to Clouden about 20 feet away. The 5-foot-8 guard dribbled-drive a couple of feet, and released a shot over two National Christian Academy defenders.
The shot went through the cylinder and Clouden was mobbed by her teammates on the court. With all the excitement, Clouden got a nose bleed.
"The play wasn't actually for me and it kind of broke down," said Clouden, who finished with 14 points. "I just went to an open spot...I just shot it and it went in."
"Nia Clouden is special," said Shelton. "She can do a lot of things and I think we've seen that over her three years. She's a clutch player."
Though Clouden was the hero, St. Frances got several key contributions to help set up the final play. Pinnick, a freshman, carried the Panthers in the third quarter with a shooting exhibition while freshman Angel Reese overcame early foul trouble to pulled down a team-high 16 rebounds.
St. Frances trailed 42-37 midway in the third when Pinnick went off. She hit a 3-pointer, bringing the Panthers to within 42-40, and Davis scored off a pass from Clouden to tie the game.
Pinnick scored St. Frances' next nine points, all on 3-pointers, helping the East Chase Street school to a 53-47 advantage heading into the fourth. The Panthers, who've been a strong second half team, appeared to be form as Carroll dropped a dagger for a 56-50 lead with 6:04 left in regulation.
National Christian didn't go away. The Eagles went on a 14-4 run as Gray's basket put them up, 64-60, with 2:32 left in regulation.
St. Frances answered with Davis, who converted a 3-point play after an offensive rebound, to regain the lead, 65-64, with 1:25 remaining. Davis grabbed a Gray miss and sent a pass upcourt to Carroll for a layup, making it 67-64 with 33 seconds left in regulation.
Gray missed on a drive with about eight seconds left in regulation, and Maya Calder grabbed the rebound and National Christian called timeout with 2.3 seconds left.
Gray inbounded the ball to Martino, who waited for Clouden to jump past her, and dropped a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, extending the game. Promise Cunningham opened overtime with a jumper, putting National Christian up.
"They have a first-rate point guard, they got a good young player in Martino who can score all over the floor," said Shelton. "They have some hard working players who are opportinistic and make plays."
St. Frances was able to make one more play and its perfect season remains intact. The Panthers host either No. 7 Seton Keough or St. Vincent Pallotti in Thursday's IAAM A Conference semifinals.
St. Frances, which won its first IAAM A crown since 2010 last year, will seek its 10th title overall.
"We have the same attitude we've had the during 25 games, work hard," said Davis. "Nothing's changed."
"It's still a journey and every game is different," said Shelton. "We just have to come out and do what we've done for 25 games. If we do that, I think we'll be fine."
No. 1 St. Frances Academy 75, National Christian Academy 74 (OT)
National Christian - Calder 14, Hewlett 7, Gray 27, Martino 15, Cunningham 11. Totals 23 19-25 74.
SF—Davis 21, Carroll 12, Settle 5, Reese 6, Jackson 2, Pinnick 15, Clouden 14. Totals 27 13-16 75.
National Christian 13 18 16 20 7 - 74
St. Frances 16 12 25 14 8 - 75
Last Updated (Monday, 13 February 2017 14:34)