From The Sun’s Katherine Dunn:
At the start of this girls basketball season, everyone I spoke with picked Seton Keough and St. Frances as the top two teams in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland. No minds changed along the way.
A long and winding season for most teams in the A Conference has been nothing but straight and narrow for the No. 1 Gators and No. 2 Panthers. Seton Keough swept every conference foe and St. Frances lost only to the Gators. They’ve been No. 1 and No. 2 all along.
Friday, they finished off their semifinals convincingly -- Seton Keough over No. 15 McDonogh, 61-53, and St. Frances over Spalding, 56-44. Now it all comes down to Sunday’s finale at Villa Julie College at 5 p.m.
Both teams have been pretty tournament savvy in recent years. Defending champ St. Frances has been the big winner of late, taking five titles in a row and six of the last seven. The Gators, even though they haven’t won since 2000, have not been far off the mark.
This is the 11th straight time the title game has included one of the two teams, or both. (See below for more about those finals.)
On Jan. 8, the Gators tasted a small dose of revenge against the Panthers for knocking them out in last season’s tournament semifinal when they romped, 62-40, at St. Frances in their only regular-season meeting.
It’s anybody’s guess whether the Panthers’ desire to avenge that loss combined with their desire to extend their title streak will trump the Gators’ desire to stay on top and their desire to snap St. Frances’ title streak.
In January, neither team was at full power. Gators guard Katelyn Fischer was out with the flu and Panthers All-Metro center Kandice Green was struggling to come back from a sprained ankle.
Both teams should be at full strength on Sunday. Nonetheless, the Gators should still have an edge and not because they moved into the No. 25 national spot in the ESPN HIGH Elite 25 girls basketball rankings this week.
The Gators have more upperclassmen and are deeper, especially on the perimeter with Fischer, B.J. Williams and three-point ace Arika Ullman, who scored her 1,000th career point this week. They also have gotten some fabulous minutes from their bench in critical situations. Meanwhile, the inside combination of All-Metro center Asya Bussie and forward Ayana Lee is tough to handle.
Still no one, especially the Gators, underestimates a young St. Frances team that has struggled in stretches but grown by leaps and bounds. The Panthers can run with anyone and have shot exceptionally well at times. Sophomore guard Shatyra Hawkes has been their breakout player while center Sophy Ngobeni, an exchange student from Africa, and forward Briana Hutchen have gained lots of experience filling in for Green.
Williams summed it all up pretty well: “We’re all looking forward to it. We played them in January, but, I think, we’re two different teams now. Us winning by 22 means nothing now. It’s a different game. They’re going to come out really pumped and so are we, so we’ll just see how it goes.”
Girls Basketball Championship Finals
Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference
2007 St. Frances def. McDonogh, 68-63 OT
2006 St. Frances def. Seton Keough, 42-31
2005 St. Frances def. IND, 68-52
2004 St. Frances def. Roland Park, 45-32
2003 St. Frances def. IND, 48-32
2002 Spalding def. Seton Keough, 45-42
2001 St. Frances def. Seton Keough, 52-37
2000 Seton Keough def. Roland Park, 45-29
1999 Seton Keough def. St. Mary’s, 48-36
1998 Seton Keough def. Mercy, 51-45
*The Catholic League, to which Seton Keough and St. Frances belonged, merged with the Association of Independent Schools to form the IAAM in 2000.