St. Vincent Pallotti High’s girls’ basketball wanted to make an impression in its inaugural season in the IAAM A Conference. In their first conference postseason contest Tuesday, the Panthers definitely left a mark.

The Panthers routed defending champ St. Frances Academy, 64-40, in a quarterfinal contest in Laurel. Pallotti (13-10 overall) will take on No. 1 Archbishop Spalding in the semifinal round Thursday evening.

Senior guard Mariah Hankton scored a game-high 20 points and handed out eight assists for Pallotti, and Tiffany Padgett added 13 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Freshman guard Cyndi Cole led St. Frances (9-17) with 18 points, and Tyeisha King finished with 13.

The Panthers did arguably what no other IAAM A squad has done in nearly two decades: beat St. Frances three times in a season. Pallotti coach Josh Pratt said his team is playing its best basketball of the season.

“You got to be playing your best basketball at the end of the year, and the last two weeks, we’ve been putting it together,” said Pratt. “The comraderie is there.”

“With the seven transfers it’s been rough gelling together and getting to know each other,” said Hankton. “As time progressed, things have gotten better and it’s exciting to be part of this team.”

Hankton, a transfer from Princeton Day Academy via Bishop McNamara, sparked the Panthers’ transition with crisp passing and drives to the basket. The Southern Connecticut State-bound point guard wants to make her lone season at the Laurel school memorable.

“The five seniors noticed it’s coming to the end and we really want to step up and get to the championship,” said Hankton.

Pallotti led by as many as 28 points Tuesday, posting their second decisive victory over the east Baltimore power. The Panthers dominated the boards with Seton Hall-bound senior Chize Ekedigwe posting a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

In a series early in the first, Pallotti got four shot attempts off five offensive boards. The Panthers missed four free throws, but eventually turned a 4-0 deficit into a 14-10 advantage.

Pallotti extended the lead to 31-17 at halftime as Hankton found Carly Conley for a layup. Hankton single-handedly blew it open for the Panthers in the third.

She found Ekedigwe in the post for a basket, then took a St. Frances turnover and went in for a three-point play. Hankton went back on the run and gave the ball up to a trailing Ekedigwe for another score before finding Conley for the last of a 9-0 surge, pushing Pallotti to a commanding 40-19 margin.

mariah hankton, chize ekedigwe, tiffany padgett“She plays under control, she has ability to control the tempo,” said Pratt. “Guard play is important in the playoffs and I think we got some really good guards who understand their roles.”

In an unfamiliar role of rebuilding this season, it was a somber ending for St. Frances, which has been dominant entity in the IAAM A with seven titles over the previous eight seasons. Coach Jerome Skelton said his team didn’t have the intangibles to match up with Pallotti.

“We kind of struggle with their athleticism around the basket,” said Shelton. “We didn’t compete with them enough around the basket. We really didn’t solve the puzzle.”

Pallotti will try figure out how to slow down nationally-ranked Spalding, which has been seriously challenged a couple of times in league play this season.  The Cavaliers defeated Pallotti by 21 and 22 points during the regular season.

“We got to limit their easy transition baskets and we can’t have a bad quarter,” said Pratt.  “We got to play solid defensively and run our stuff. The bottom line is we have to play our best game of the season.”

St. Vincent Pallotti 64, St. Frances Academy 40
St. Frances107131040
St. Vincent Pallotti1417211264
St. Frances: King 13, Cole 18, Woods 7, Hodges 2 Totals: 10 14-17 40.
Pallotti: Hankton 20, Padgett 13, Ekedigwe 11, Nolan 1, Brown 2, Conley 6, Davis 2, Graham 2, Faulkner 6, Walker 1. Totals: 22 14-26 64.
Halftime: Pallotti 31, St. Frances 17