When the Noel Classic Tournament Committee seeded St. Mary's No. 1 in the tournament, it was before the Saints lost All-Metro forward Laura Coakley to a knee injury.
Without Coakley (19 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game last season), who may miss the rest of the season with cartilage and ligament damage in her knee, St. Mary's went 4-4, losing four straight games at one point.
But yesterday, the Saints (6-5) looked every bit like the top team in the tournament, as they rolled to a 48-27 win over fourth-seeded and No. 8-ranked North County (6-1) in a semifinal at Archbishop Spalding.
St. Mary's will meet Old Mill, a 60-49 winner over Archbishop Spalding last night, in the championship game tonight at 8.
The Saints broke their four-game losing streak with a 33-29 victory over then-No. 10 Broadneck last Friday. St. Mary's junior guard Randall Goldsborough -- who scored a game-high 16 points yesterday -- said the win over Broadneck gave the Saints confidence that they could win without Coakley.
"The win over Broadneck really triggered it," Goldsborough said. "We relied on Laura to score and rebound instead of doing it ourselves. Everyone realized they had a job to do."
Said St. Mary's coach Carmine Blades: "They had an adjustment phase to go through without Laura. We had to find out who could play and who couldn't."
The Saints used a swarming, full-court press to throw North County's offense out of sync. The Knights committed 35 turnovers and shot just 27 percent (13 for 48) from the field.
"We knew how to defend [against] this team," Blades said. "We packed it in inside and gave them the outside shot. We figured their guards were suspect."
North County coach Sally Entsminger disagreed with the suggestion that St. Mary's exploited her guards.
"It was more of a problem with our work ethic," Entsminger said. "People just stood around and didn't go to the basket. The work ethic has to and will improve."
Poor shooting at the foul line did not help matters for the Knights, who missed the front end of eight one-and ones. North County missed its first 10 free-throw attempts and finished 1-for-12 from the line.
North County never led, but the Knights were able to trade baskets with the Saints in the first quarter and part of the second. Tina Miller's basket with five minutes remaining in the first half pulled North County even at 14-14.
St. Mary's, however, ended the first half on an 11-2 run -- aided by seven North County turnovers -- to take a 25-16 halftime lead.
The closest North County came in the second half was 28-22 with 4:04 left in the third quarter, but St. Mary's outscored the Knights, 20-5, the rest of the game.
In the other semifinal, Stacy Himes scored 14 and Christine Baer added 12 to pace No. 6 and second-seeded Old Mill (7-0) past third-seeded Archbishop Spalding (4-6). It was the Patriots' second victory over Spalding this season.
Despite the victory, Old Mill coach Pat Chance was not pleased with her team's performance.
"They did a lot of dumb things, but they're young and they have to learn," said Chance, who had only one senior in the game. "But they never gave up."
The Patriots -- who were without last season's leading scorer, senior guard Sandy Johnson, who has been hampered by a hamstring injury -- built a 36-26 halftime advantage, but were unable to put the game out of reach in the second half.
Old Mill led by as many as 16 in the second half, but the Cavaliers battled back.
Spalding pulled within 56-46 on a basket by Kalene Cummings, with 2:21 remaining in the game.
In first-round action postponed by Thursday's snow, Cindy Davenport led a balanced offense with 12 points, as Old Mill routed seventh-seeded Mount de Sales (5-2), 76-31.
Third-seeded Archbishop Spalding (4-5) advanced to last night's semifinal against Old Mill with a 58-46 win over sixth-seeded Centennial (2-3).