No. 1 St. Frances ends Seton Keough's run in IAAM A basketball; Clouden and Reese combine for 30 (VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS HERE!!)
While one girls' basketball legacy continues, another reached its final chapter Thursday.
Top-ranked St. Frances Academy defeated No. 7 Seton Keough, 62-45, in an IAAM A Conference semifinal match at Phelps Gymnasium in east Baltimore. Junior guard Nia Clouden had 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the Panthers (26-0 overall) and Angel Reese posted a double-double, 13 points and 11 rebounds.
The East Chase Street school pulled away from the Gators in the fourth quarter to advance to its second straight Championship Sunday. The Panthers, ranked 13th in latest USA Today Super 25, will play area's consensus No. 2 McDonogh School for the league title, Sunday evening at 6 at Stevenson University.
St. Frances withstood a valiant effort from Seton Keough (14-11), playing its final IAAM A match. The Caton Avenue school, which will closed its doors at the end of the school year, is the last team to beat St. Frances in the IAAM A final (2009).
"They didn't back down and pushed us to the end," said Panthers senior post Mia Davis. "They kept fighting."
St. Frances led by as many as 19 points in the first half, but the Gators were down just 45-39 late in the third quarter after Sydney Mitchell's 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining. Freshman sniper Delicia Pinnick dropped a dagger with a couple of seconds left, giving the Panthers a nine-point lead entering the final eight minutes.
Seconds into the fourth, Mitchell had to leave the game with shin injury after a player fell on her. Yasmin Lewis missed a shot, and Pinnick came back with another 3-pointer, putting St. Frances back up double-digits at 51-39.
Seton Keough got no closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
"Knowing potentially this could be our last game we wanted to go out playing hard," said Gators senior guard Kayla Bacon. "St. Frances is a tough team to play, they're athletic, long and lanky. It was heart and hustle."
Bacon, who will play for Drexel University next season, led all scorers with 22 points with Mitchell adding 11.
Mitchell, also a senior, was in pain as she was carried to a seat at the end of the Gators' bench after her injury. A seat over, teammate Kaila Jennings sported a leg brace from a season-ending ACL injury a few weeks ago.
Next to Jennings, Jaya Green sat with one leg propped over several chairs because of a partially tore patella tendon.
"It took some air out of us," said Seton Keough coach Stephanie Gilmore of Mitchell's injury. "We were pushing through, but that deflated us. I pulled them closer and told them we got to refocus."
The Gators, who lost by 10 to the Panthers a couple of weeks after a 27-point lashing in January, were ready for the third match Thursday. Seton Keough was even at 6 midway through the opening quarter.
St. Frances, which won all but one of its IAAM A regular season matches by double-digits, closed the first with an 11-0 run for a 17-6 advantage. The Panthers appeared to a blowout midway in the second after Clouden, the hero in their epic overtime victory over National Christian Academy Saturday, dropped a 3-pointer for a 31-12 advantage.
Though Seton Keough sliced the deficit in the third, St. Frances always answered. After a Mitchell's 3-pointer made it 36-27, Davis scored inside. She grabbed an offensive rebound and scored after the Gators got to 43-34. Seton Keough responded with a Bacon basket and Mitchell's dagger to make it a two-possession game, but Pinnick's 3-pointer stunted the Gators' momentum.
Panthers coach Jerome Shelton was pleased to see his notorious slow starting squad get off to a better start Thursday.
"We didn't start too bad. I think we had a couple of lulls in the game," said Shelton, whose team led 34-22 at intermission. "We played much better in the second half in a lot of games, but the first half wasn't bad. It could be better."
Seton Keough will play its final games at the Bishop Walsh Invitational in Cumberland in a couple of weeks, but Thursday marked the Gators' last match on area soil. The southwest Baltimore school leaves an indelible mark in area girls' hoops, winning six Catholic League titles and two IAAM A Conference crowns.
"It's been so many games I've coached against their coaches and it's always special," said Shelton. "It will be a big lost for Baltimore basketball."
St. Frances will look to add to its burgeoning legacy Sunday. The Panthers, who've won an IAAM-best nine tournament titles, will try complete a second straight perfect run through the area's toughest league.
"Every team is different, so we will have players in their first high school championship game," said Shelton. "Just getting back is a tremendous honor."
IAAM A Conference semifinal
No. 1 St. Frances Academy 62, No. 7 Seton Keough 45
Seton Keough - Bacon 22, Mitchell 11, Lewis 5, Addison 4, Smith 3. Totals 19 4-9 45.
St. Frances - Clouden 17, Reese 13, Davis 12, Jackson 6, Pinnick 6, Settle 4, Carroll 2, Hinton 2. Totals 25 7-14 62.
Seton Keough 8 14 17 6 - 45
St. Frances 17 17 14 14 - 62
Last Updated (Friday, 17 February 2017 15:42)