No. 2 McDonogh bests Roland Park Country for eighth consecutive IAAM A basketball final berth; Booth scores 25 (VIDEO HERE!!!)

McDonogh’s Kayla Liles nabs a rebound between Roland Park Country’s Maria Ferariu (left) and Aniyah Carpenter during the second half of Thursday’s IAAM A Conference basketball semifinal. The No. 2 Eagles advanced to their eighth straight title match with a 73-69 decision over the third-ranked Reds in Owings Mills.

by Nelson Coffin

Consistency and composure are two major attributes that mark  McDonogh School girls’ basketball program, especially over the last eight years under coach Brad Rees.
Having won three titles during that span, the No. 2 Eagles earned their eighth straight berth in the IAAM A Conference championship game after eliminating third-ranked Roland Park Country School, 73-69, in a semifinal on Thursday evening in Owings Mills.
McDonogh (21-4 overall) will face No. 1 St. Frances Academy for the crown on Sunday at 6 p.m. at Stevenson University.
The Panthers (20-4), who routed John Carroll, 86-28, on the other side of the bracket, have beaten the Eagles in the last two finals.
“They’re coming for us,” McDonogh senior guard Taleah Dixon said, “And we’ll be coming for them.”
Dixon was one of the main reasons why the Eagles prevailed on Thursday, considering her play at the end of the first half that capped a wild rally.
With Roland Park (21-7) leading, 33-29, with just over a minute to go in the second quarter on a bucket by sophomore center Mir McLean, McDonogh junior guard Jessica Booth, who led all scorers with 25 points, finished a pretty left-handed drive before Dixon brought her team even — and then put the Eagles ahead for good.
First, she made a steal and converted a layup to knot the score at 33-all with 47 seconds to go until the intermission.
Then Dixon spotted up from beyond the arc and let fly a shot as the buzzer sounded that found nothing but the net as the crowd erupted.
“I got open and I knocked it down,” she said.
Roland Park, which had three nine-point leads in the first half, never recovered — until it was too late.
As buoyed as the Eagles were by Dixon’s momentum-changing shot, Roland Park wasn’t through.
“We knew we had to keep pushing,” Dixon said.
Roland Park coach Scott Buckley said that his team only lost its composure for a minute.
“But that’s all it takes against a good team,” he said. “We played so well in the first half. A foul on Rain after a shot that would have out us back up by nine really hurt.”
Rees said that the Eagles’ pressure defense eventually exacts results.
“Our pressure will eventually get to you,” he said. “In one stretch we got a couple of steals and some cheap baskets. Defensive pressure got us back in the game.”
The Reds eventually fell behind by 16 points with 38 seconds remaining in the third period on a stick-back by 5-foot-7 Aleah Nelson, whose work on the offensive glass later in the game was critical to the victory.
Roland Park fought and clawed back in the fourth quarter, turning an apparent runaway into a nail-biter late in the final frame by closing the contest on a 24-12 run behind McLean (team-best 20 points), sophomore guard Rain Green, junior guard Ja’Niah Henson and junior forward Maria Ferariu.
The Reds were trailing, 69-64, after a Ferariu three-ball when Nelson showed her rebounding prowess on the offensive glass, putting back a rebound off a missed free throw to give her team a 71-64 advantage with 74 seconds left in regulation.
With just six seconds remaining and the lead down to 72-69, Nelson grabbed a key rebound in the paint off another miss from the free throw line and was fouled.
The junior guard’s ensuing foul shot iced the win.

Aleah Nelson came up a huge offensive rebound late in regulation for McDonogh. The Eagles will take on two-time defending champ and No. 1 St. Frances Academy for the IAAM A title, Sunday at 6 p.m. at Stevenson University.

“Coach always says that it’s all about heart over height,” Nelson said. “And it’s not always about scoring points. When I’m not scoring I’m trying to help the team by rebounding and doing other things.”

ROLAND PARK COUNTRY SCHOOL: Mir McLean 20, Maria Ferariu 15, Rain Green 13, Aniyah Carpenter 11, Christyn Robinson 6, Ja’Niah Henson 4. TOTALS: 27 10-18 69.
MCDONOGH SCHOOL: Jessica Booth 25, Taleah Dixon 15, Kayla Liles 14, Aleah Nelson 12, Treasure Valdez 3, Jayla Oden 2. TOTALS: 24 19-22 73.
ROLAND PARK COUNTRY   17  16  14  22  —  69
MCDONOGH 13  23  25  12 —   73