McDonogh’s girls basketball’s offense started with some AA battery defense in a 61-33 win over St. Vincent Pallotti Wednesday night.
Guards Autumn Fleary and Ava McKennie helped the No. 3 Eagles force 15 turnovers and combined for 35 points as McDonogh held the host and fourth-ranked Panthers to single-digit scoring in the final three quarters en route to a critical victory just weeks away from the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship tournament.
“I think this was really important,” McKennie said of the win, “because after our loss to St. Frances, we needed to really get back with another high-ranking team in our league and really to get this win so that we could contend for the top seed.”
The defending champion Eagles (17-2) improved to 8-1 in the conference while St. Frances (17-2) remained the only unbeaten team at 8-0 after Wednesday night’s 55-35 win over No. 8 Mount Carmel. Pallotti (14-7) is third at 5-3. No other team has a winning record.
Monday, the Eagles head to No. 2 St. Frances for a game that likely will determine the No. 1 tournament seed. St. Frances won the first meeting with McDonogh, 56-49, two weeks ago, so a St. Frances win would all but give the Panthers the top spot. If the Eagles win and both teams finish with one conference loss, the tie breaker would come down to “point differential in games between the tied teams,” according to the IAAM Handbook.
The Eagles have twice beaten Pallotti, the likely No. 3 tournament seed, but Wednesday’s game did not start in McDonogh’s favor. The extremely quick Panthers executed their game plan in the early minutes and the Eagles missed six of their first eight free throws to help Pallotti take an 11-8 lead. Once the Eagles turned it with a nine-point run, however, they rolled.
Fleary, a freshman point guard who finished with 24 points, hit a 3-pointer in the late first-quarter spur. Junior 6-4 post Kennedy Umeh scored four points and McKennie ran the lead to 15-11 with a layup off a steal.
The Panthers cut the lead to 20-16 on Gabrielle Clary’s runner with 3:20 to go in the first half, but the Eagles answered with an 8-1 run when Mikaela Quimby finished a three-point play and Fleary scored off a loose ball and then hit a 3-pointer on a feed from Paris Locke four seconds before halftime.
“We just had to play defense first,” Fleary said. “I knew my offense was going to come. I was really focusing on my defense and making sure I cut them off and did what coach Brad (Rees) wanted us to do — jump the ball screens and just jump them. I really think defense was key tonight and I got a lot of my points off defensive stops.”
McKennie said Fleary never plays like a freshman.
“She just does what she needs to do on the floor,” McKennie said. “She attacks the hoop. She knows where the ball needs to go. She’s really confident for being a freshman. She’s all we need.”
McKennie, a multitalented 6-foot-2 junior, finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, five steals and two blocks.
“She can defend a guard. She can defend a post. She’s so long,” Rees said, “and she can get out. After she gets a rebound, after she gets a block, she can run the court. She’s just so versatile.”
The Eagles also got 13 points and 8 rebounds from Umeh and 10 points from senior guard Quimby.
The Panthers were coming off one of their biggest wins of the season, 53-42 over No. 5 Howard at the Public vs. Private Challenge Saturday, but against McDonogh, everything seemed to fall apart after the first few minutes.
“We didn’t show up today,” Pallotti coach Rashida Joiner said. “We stuck to the game plan for the first few minutes. We wanted to play half court man, pressure the ball. We wanted to shadow Kennedy, so we had the defender and then we had the help side shadow her. It worked for the first couple minutes, but we went away from it.”
Freshman 6-4 forward Arianna Harris-Mott led the Panthers with eight points and 10 rebounds while junior win Camryn Jones-Howard also scored eight points.
NO. 3 MCDONOGH 61, NO. 4 ST. VINCENT PALLOTTI 33
McDonogh 15 15 16 15 — 61
Pallotti 12 6 9 6 — 33
McDonogh — Autumn Fleary 24, Ava McKennie 11, Makaela Quimby 10, Paris Locke 3, Kennedy Umeh 13. Totals: 24 9-16 61.
Pallotti — Sydney Anthony 6, Gabrielle Clary 7 , Mary Amoateng 4, Camryn Jones-Howard 8, Arianna Harris-Mott 8. Totals: 12 7-11 33.