As the final buzzer sounded in St. Mary’s 68-58 IAAM B Conference basketball championship win, Monday afternoon, a crescendo of raucous praise erupted from the partisan student section for their beloved Saints, who had just captured the program’s first conference girls basketball title since the 2012-13 season.
Perhaps a more fitting salute to those same 12 players and their coaches would have been the playing of Tina Turner’s hit “Simply the best” as St. Mary’s was certainly better than all of the rest and better than anyone, anyone the Saints met this winter, improving to 27-0 with Monday’s victory against St. Timothy’s at APG Federal Credit Union Arena.
“It’s a special team,” said St. Mary’s coach Chuck Miller, who captured five IAAM B crowns while coaching at the Seven School, the most recent coming at the conclusion of the 2013-14 campaign. “I mean I had five championships at Severn in the same conference. We never were close (to a perfect season). Three of four losses, but zero, are you kidding me?
“These kids, they’re unbelievable. They really are. My two freshmen are unbelievable. (Alexandra Vandiver) carried with her threes in the first (half) and Baily (Harris) took over later.”
An aggressive St. Timothy’s squad and its tenacious full-court press ensured that the completion of that perfect season would not be easy. In fact, things got a little tense for the Saints as do-everything freshman forward Vandiver (14 points) fouled out with 2:55 remaining, helping St. Timothy’s trim a 12-point deficit to seven points at 64-57 with 2:18 left in the contest following three straight points off steals by super substitute Karmen McDuffie (17points, three 3-pointers).
McDuffie, in fact, turned the Saints over on a third straight possession, but her layup attempt was blocked by Harris to effectively end the threat as the Saints made four of six double bonus free throws in the final 2:08 to close out the championship victory.
“They have a great defensive team; we just had to stay calm,” said Harris, who led the Saints with 25 points, including converting 15-18 free throws. “We got rushed a lot, like a lot, but when we stayed calm, we were able to get past their press. They’re a great team.
“(Winning the title) was the best thing that ever happened to this team. It was just the cherry on top.”
St. Timothy’s, which was paced by Aryss Macktoon’s game-high 29 points, including 16 in the second half, turned an early 7-2 deficit into a 12-11 lead after one quarter of play behind three straight points by Macktoon and a 3-pointer from the left wing by McDuffie. Six early points by Harris kept the contest tight after eight minutes of action.
Vandiver helped the Saints gain control of the contest in the second quarter with a quick seven points that sparked a 21-9 St. Mary’s run to forge a 35-25 halftime advantage. That jaunt also contained a 3-point play by junior point guard Baily Walden, who used a nifty around-the-back dribble to get in herself into the lane for the shot and foul, and two layups from reserve forward Mia Novak on good looks from teammates Anna Ervin (seven points) and Walden (14 points) upon breaking the St. Timothy’s full-court press.
“I was so nervous but . . . my teammates told me that they would bring it home, and I believed them the whole time,” Vandiver said. “We just love each other. We have such camaraderie on our team. We always say we are a family.”
Despite nine points from Macktoon and nine committed turnovers, the Saints added a point to their lead, 48-37, heading into the final eight minutes with five different St. Mary’s players logging two or more points in the third quarter.
In the fourth, St. Mary’s built up that 12-point lead largely on the strength of its free throw shooting (12-12 in the first five minutes of the quarter) and a couple of layups by Harris and Novak, who produced six points, four rebounds, and three blocks in extensive minutes before fouling out with 5:04 left in the game.
St. Mary’s made 16-18 free throws in the fourth quarter as St. Timothy’s fullcourt pressure featured a lot of risk and reward and 31 free throws for the game.
“It just seemed like they got all the 50-50 balls,” said St. Timothy’s coach Vernon Harris, whose squad finished the season at 17-4 and should bring back numerous players from this year’s squad. “Then they got hot. A lot of free throws, they just started getting to the bucket. We kept the press on. I thought the press did rattle them a little bit, but they stayed steady, they stayed real composed, and when they did break the press, they attacked the rim and then they got a lot of fouls. That was a big difference in the second half, the free throw line.”
IAAM B Conference Championship Game
ST. MARY’S 68, ST. TIMOTHY’S 58
St. Timothy’s 12 13 12 21 - 58
St. Mary’s 11 24 13 20 - 68
St. Timothy’s - Aryss Macktoon 29, Karmen McDuffie 17, Mariah Hardy 7, Kyla Stack 2, Kira Upton 3. Totals: 16 21-34 58.
St. Mary’s - Alexandra Vandiver 14, Maya Morahan 2, Bailey Harris 25, Anna Ervin 7, Bailey Walden 14, Mia Novak 6. Totals 17 31-39 68.