After last night's game against Seton Keough, St. Frances coach Jerome Shelton probably will cringe every time he hears the sound of a whistle being blown. When Shelton reflects on his team's grit and determination, however, a smile likely will replace his scowl.
Despite having all five starters in foul trouble, fourth-ranked St. Frances (10-1) rallied from a seven-point third-quarter deficit to defeat No. 15 Seton Keough (6-4), 61-52, in the Holly Division of the Holly & Hoops Tournament at Essex Community College.
The Panthers will meet Bethlehem Catholic (Pa.), a 51-36 winner over No. 12 Severna Park, in tonight's championship game at 9 p.m. Seton Keough will meet Severna Park in the consolation game today at 3 p.m.
In the Hoops Division, the Institute of Notre Dame (4-4) defeated McCorristin Catholic (N.J.), 53-46, and St. John's-Prospect Hall from Frederick routed No. 7 Randallstown, 74-44.
Southern-AA defeated Loch Raven, 62-48, in one Mistletoe Division game, and Mount de Sales edged Bryn Mawr, 36-34, in overtime in the other.
St. Frances employs tough man-to-man pressure defense, but its aggressiveness seemed to work against it in the first half.
Junior guard/forward Melba Chambers, the Panthers' leading scorer sat out much of the first half with three fouls and no points. By halftime, St. Frances had been called for 15 fouls, while the Gators committed just three.
Seton Keough took advantage of the Panthers' foul problems by hitting 15 of 23 free throws to take a 24-23 halftime lead.
Overall, Seton Keough converted 23 of 37 foul shots. St. Frances, which had three players foul out, was 10 of 16 from the line.
The Gators, which lost to St. Frances by 26 points earlier this month, extended their lead to 38-31 with 2:53 remaining in the third quarter.
It was at that point that Chambers, still scoreless, seized control.
Chambers (15 points) scored her first points on a feed from Jakia Ervin with 2:30 left in the third quarter. She went on to score eight more as the Panthers ended the period on a 12-4 run to take a 45-42 lead.
The Gators never got closer than three in the fourth quarter.
"Two years ago, we would have folded," Shelton said. "Now we're making the plays down the stretch.
"This game tested our pride and our character. It made us reach down."
Seton Keough pulled within 56-52 on freshman guard Charity Carbine's baseline drive with 1:24 left. But Kristi Webb, who scored a game-high 18, made five of six free-throw attempts in the final minute to seal the victory for St. Frances.
For his second meeting with the Panthers, first-year Seton Keough coach Mike Mohler switched from his usual man-to-man to a zone with a "chaser" on Chambers.
He abandoned the zone, however, early in the fourth quarter.
"We should have stayed in it," said Mohler, who coached the Catonsville Community College men's team for seven seasons prior to coming to Seton Keough. "Because of my stupidity, we switched back to our traditional defense and it allowed Melba to take the game over.
"I figured with some of their starters down with foul trouble, our girls might be able to get a couple more steals. But those players never touched the ball because Melba took control."
All four of Seton Keough's losses this season have been to ranked teams: No. 5 Mount Hebron (53-44), No. 12 Severna Park (57-50 in overtime) and two to St. Frances.
"Our girls are playing really hard," Mohler said. "They played their hearts out. It would be nice to start winning a few of the close ones, though."
Katie Sparks scored 13 to lead the Gators, and Melanie Morris and Carbine added 12 and 11 points, respectively.
In the other Holly Division game, Tiffany Bedics scored 27 and Gina Sebastionelli added 16 to lead Bethlehem Catholic (6-0), which is ranked No. 1 by The Allentown Morning Call.
Bethlehem Catholic built a 29-16 halftime lead and led throughout the second half.
Sophomore Angela DeSalvo scored 11 to lead the Falcons (5-1).
IND outscored McCorristin Catholic 17-2 in the third quarter to turn a three-point deficit into a 12-point lead. Candice Morrison scored 13 to lead the Indians.
A second-half lull by Randallstown allowed St. John's-Prospect Hall to pull away. The Rams trailed by just six at halftime.
IND will meet St. John's in tonight's Hoops championship game at 7. Randallstown and McCorristin Catholic will play in the consolation game today at 1.
Southern and Mount de Sales will meet in the Mistletoe Division championship game today at 5. Loch Raven and Bryn Mawr play in the consolation game at 11 a.m.