Seton Keough senior forward Katie Sparks isn't the flashiest, the quickest or the most athletic player on her team.
Sometimes her name doesn't even appear in the box score.
But because of her defense and her all-around smart play, Seton Keough coach Jim Stromberg once said that "even if she doesn't score a point, we don't win unless she's on the court."
Yesterday, Sparks gave the Gators an added bonus. She scored a career-high 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead sixth-ranked and top-seeded Seton Keough to a 54-28 victory over visiting and eighth-seeded Mercy in a Catholic League Tournament quarterfinal.
The Gators (24-2) will meet fourth-seeded Mount de Sales, a 58-56 winner over fifth-seeded Institute of Notre Dame, in tonight's 5 o'clock semifinal at Archbishop Spalding.
With Mercy (7-20) doing a good job defensively on Seton Keough's leading scorers, Melanie Morris (11 points) and
Meghann Donovan (nine points, 10 rebounds), Sparks' offense was welcomed by Stromberg.
"It was a good effort from Katie and we needed it," said Stromberg, in his first season at Seton Keough after 14 years as an assistant at Mount Hebron. "She knows her role and she does it. She did a nice job defensively as well."
Actually, it was a strong defensive effort by the whole Seton Keough team, especially in the first half.
For the half, the Gators forced 10 turnovers and limited the
Sharpshooters to just three offensive rebounds and 5-for-15 shooting from the field. Conversely, Seton Keough made 11 of 27 field-goal attempts to take a 26-15 halftime lead.
It didn't help matters for Mercy when sophomore point guard Shannon Cohen, the Sharpshooters' leading scorer and best ballhandler, picked up her fourth foul away from the ball with 4:15 remaining in the second quarter.
"She controls our offense, and in a game like this, where we need everything to go right, it was big to lose her," Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion said.
Said Stromberg: "When [Cohen] went out it changed the whole complexion of the game. I think Mercy was a little outmanned."
Seton Keough, which has defeated Mercy three times this season, put the game out of reach with a 13-2 run to begin the third quarter. The Sharpshooters scored only four points in the period and went a span of 6:08 between field goals.
In a league where upsets have been prevalent this season, it appeared that the Gators weren't taking anything for granted, especially since they were coming off a 48-47 upset loss to Poly on Tuesday that ended a 19-game winning streak.
"We know that Mercy plays good defense and we'd have to come out focused and play hard," Morris said. "All year we've played tough defense and we know the offense will take care of itself."
Freshman forward Cassie Hall scored eight points to pace the Sharpshooters and Cohen added seven.