If Archbishop Spalding's girls basketball team had any doubts about its ability to compete with the Baltimore Catholic League's elite, that skepticism should subside after its performance in yesterday's matchup with visiting Mercy.
The Cavaliers didn't win, but they proved worth their weight in hardwood before falling to the Sharpshooters,58-56, in a game that left everyone on hand white-knuckled.
"A year ago, with the team we had, a tight loss like this wouldn't have helped us much, but with a young team like this, they need to know they can play with these teams," said Spalding coach Paul Leimkuhler, whose team still was recovering from a 70-36 loss last Thursdayto St. Mary's.
"We knew we had to play hard the whole game. We got down by a couple of points sometimes and we never folded.
"This team just never stops playing hard, and they never give up. We need to know that we can play with the good teams because we're going to see them all again in the second round."
Mercy (11-3), which came toSpalding ranked 10th in the Baltimore metro area, escaped the Cavaliers' gymnasium with the victory when Stephanie Rohe hit both ends of a one-and-one with two seconds remaining.
Amy Langville's desperation shot at the buzzer caromed sky
ward off the front of the rim, bringing the entire Mercy bench to its feet.
"Stephanie is clutch in that situation," Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion said about Rohe's game-winning free throws. "If I could pick anyone in the Catholic League to be on the line in that situation, I would pick her."
After yielding the Cavs five three-pointers in the first half, Mercy went to a triangle-and-two defense in the second half to stop Langville and Kelly Mabe and was successful.
However, by keying on the two Cavalier guards, the Sharpshooters opened the inside for sophomore center Carrie Parsons. Parsons scored 15 points in the second half and finished with a career-high 20 points and 13 rebounds, fouling out with 16 seconds to go.
"That's something we haven't seen this year, a defense geared to stop our two best scoring guards," said Leimkuhler. "They haven't seen the (triangle-and-two) that often, so their tendency was to back off and pass the ball to everyone else.
"We got some baskets out of the other players, but they weren't hitting with nearlythe accuracy that Kelly and Amy had."
Spalding (6-9, 2-4) was just 10 for 31 from the floor in the first half, but thanks to a trio ofthree-pointers from Mabe, two from Langville, and a 3-of-4 performance at the line, the Cavs trailed by only two at the half, 30-28.
The Sharpshooters opened the second half with five straight turnovers that enabled Spalding to take the lead. Kari Thompson's baseline jumper with 5 minutes, 3 seconds to go in the third quarter put the hostsout front, 35-32.
The Cavaliers mismanaged the clock in the waning seconds of the third period and paid for it as Mercy's Gayle Belz took a feed from Rohe the distance of the floor to give her squad a 44-41 advantage heading into the final quarter.
And oh, what a quarter it was.
Junior forward Lisa Canter was the first Cavalier to foul out, and she soon was joined by Karen Keeley and eventually by Parsons.
Langville and Mabe both finished with 20 points for the Cavaliers, but it was Rohe who notched the victory and game-high honors with 24 points.
"It's never an easy win down here for either of us," Marion said. "We never seemed to get far enough ahead. They just kept coming back and coming back again."