Pallotti"s Beverly Ogunrinde and McDonogh's Brianna… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
No one will accuse McDonogh of playing the prettiest brand of basketball. In fact, at times, the area's second-ranked team can look plain ugly on the court.
But as they showed once again in Thursday's 46-34 win over No. 8 St. Vincent Pallotti, the Eagles simply find ways to gut it out.
Despite missing 16 straight shots at one point and going without a field goal for nearly 10 minutes, McDonogh (23-1, 14-0 Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference) held the Panthers to 15 percent shooting in the second half, using a late 14-3 run to pull away. Senior Tiersa Winder (14 points) nailed a pair of key 3-pointers down the stretch for the Eagles, who extended their winning streak to 21.
"We struggle, we don't score … it's just ugly," McDonogh coach Brad Rees said. "Then we come back in the third quarter and we've got enough gas left to pull it out. Perseverance has just been key for us this year."
The victory completed a perfect regular season in the conference for the Eagles, who enter next week's tournament searching for their first conference title since winning the Association of Independent Schools crown in 1999. It they make it to the Feb. 18 final at UMBC, odds are they'd at some point have to face either Pallotti or No. 6 Archbishop Spalding for a third time this season.
For much of this one, McDonogh struggled to put away the Panthers (15-7, 10-4).
Pallotti took a 24-22 lead on a 3-pointer by forward Tiffany Padgett (14 points) early in the third quarter. The Eagles could do little in the paint against Padgett and center Beverly Ogurinde, then also struggled mightily from the perimeter, missing 21 of their first 22 attempts from 3-point range.
"I was very frustrated," said Winder, McDonogh's leading scorer. "The whole team was very frustrated, but we kept striving for it. We knew that eventually something would fall."
Trailing by two, McDonogh's athleticism began to take over. Led by Winder, freshman guard Danielle Edwards (12 points) and senior guard Taylor Cummings (10), the Eagles scored 14 of the next 17, holding the Panthers to one basket in the first 11 minutes of the second half.
"I thought we competed, and I'm actually really happy with the way we played," Pallotti coach Josh Pratt said. "We just have to get better offensively."
On a night when McDonogh honored seniors Winder, Cummings and Marin Kobb, it was their leadership down the stretch that ultimately made the difference.
"They don't get frazzled. … They don't give up," Rees said. "It's amazing what that leadership and chemistry can do."
No. 2 McDonogh 46, No. 8 Pallotti 34
Pallotti — Padgett 14, Davis 6, Harrison 5, Sparks 6, Iliard 1, Coleman 2. Totals: 12 9-18 34.
McDonogh — Kobb 3, Rees 4, Edwards 12, Cummings 10, Jacobs 3, Winder 14. Totals: 14 15-19 46.
Half: Pallotti, 21-20.