Upper Marlboro -- No. 1 St. Frances came out firing at Riverdale Baptist yesterday, but as halftime drew near, the Crusaders used their inside game to spark a lead the Panthers would never close.
The Crusaders opened a 19-point advantage and rode it to a 62-52 victory over the Panthers, who are ranked No. 24 nationally by USA Today.
The Panthers (14-1) had a bit more pressure on them going into the game because No. 3 Western defeated the Crusaders, 39-35, on Jan. 10 in the Basketball Academy at Morgan State.
"We didn't talk so much about that," said Panthers coach Jerome Shelton. "What we talked about was the attitude we needed to have to play this game.
"That was a euphemism for what was going to happen today, because we knew we were going to get a much better battle ... from them because of what happened up there."
Crusaders coach Diane Richardson said the loss to Western, which dropped her team from No. 1 to No. 5 in The Washington Post poll, was a wake-up call.
"The Western game is a nightmare still," Richardson said. "[The Crusaders] lacked intensity in that game and they realized today that teams in Baltimore are scrappy and they can't sit back like they did in that Western game. They gave us a good run and thank goodness we battled back."
The Panthers ran up a 9-2 lead, mostly with their perimeter game, but the Crusaders (12-2) turned the game around on the inside. The pair of 6-foot Demauria Liles (14 points) and 5-11 Vicki Collier (10 points) sparked an 8-2 run as Riverdale Baptist closed the first half with a 32-23 lead.
"We hit jumpers early and never established our inside game, so we never went to it. We kept shooting jumpers and we weren't making them," said Panthers All-Metro forward Mi-Khida Hankins (12 points).
Midway through the third quarter, the Crusaders pushed the lead to 45-26, but Hankins led a 12-2 Panthers rally to pull within nine. TaNika Jeffers' 20-footer cut the lead to seven with 2:58 left.
But 30 seconds later, Crusaders guard RaShauna Hobbs snuffed that momentum with her fourth three-pointer.