In a No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle so physical one of the coaches was even knocked out, St. Mary's (Phoenix)
outlasted Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.)
in the finals of the Nike TOC, 79-69.
Riverdale Baptist coach Diane Richardson got caught in the crossfire of one the 57 fouls in the game with 2:10 left in the third quarter and was out cold for almost a minute.
, one her senior guards, came flying into the bench and caught Richardson under the chin.
"I couldn't get out of the way," she said. "I'm too old." The game was stopped, and EMTs arrived to check out Richardson, who showed her toughness by coaching the rest of the game.
And it was a long rest of the game, as 48 of the 84 free throws in the game – yes, 84 – occurred after Richardson's collision, and it seemed like the last 3 minutes would last until 2012 because Riverdale was fouling in hopes of mounting an improbable comeback.
St. Mary's wound up taking 13 free throws in the last 2 minutes, much to the dismay of the Crusader fans, one of whom called the officiating a "travesty." Of course, the Knights had their own complaints, as starting forward Cortnee Walton
played fewer than 8 minutes before she fouled out, and starting center Chantel Osahor
played the entire fourth quarter with four fouls.
"It was the most physical game I've ever seen in girls basketball," said St. Mary's coach Curtis Ekmark, whose daughter Courtney Ekmark
led all scorers with 26 points.
Tournament MVP Shilpa Tummala
didn't agree. "It was definitely expected," she said of the contact, and since the St. Mary's girls played against the Riverdale girls on the summer circuit, for her, at least, the physicality was not a surprise.
The players most involved in the frequent collisions during the game were St. Mary's twins Danielle Williams
and Dominique Williams
. They took 26 free throws between them, and there were numerous times they bounced on the floor without a foul being called. "The twins are the best teammates ever," said Tummala. "They do all the little things that no one wants to do."
Tummala was a pretty good teammate in the finals, though, because she did the big things – such as score. Though she started the game, she went to the bench early, but then Ekmark reinserted her with 4:20 to go in the first quarter with Riverdale ahead 5-3. After the senior exploded for 10 straight points in 99 seconds, the Knights were up eight, 13-5.
Riverdale fought back to tie it at 17, but when Ekmark scored after a steal by Dominique Williams, St. Mary's took a lead it never lost. The biggest margin was 13 in the first half, and got to 18, 61-43, with 5:07 remaining in the game. At that point, Riverdale rallied, and pulled within 10 on four separate occasions, but could never get any closer as the Knights made just enough free throws to keep the lead comfortable.
Of course, they had plenty of practice at the line, going there an amazing 57 times and converting 38. To put that in perspective, St. Mary's made only 18 baskets all game, and only six in the entire second half. (Danielle Williams had 12 points, all free throws.)
Meanwhile, Riverdale had to rely on the powerful inside game of Jennie Simms
(15 points) and the all-around effort of Jontel Jones
(13 points and 12 rebounds), as the Crusaders did not make a 3-pointer in a game that may haunt them for the rest of the season. They came in No. 1 in the nation, and will definitely drop (but not too far), and if St. Mary's wins out – which is not unlikely, though the Knights do play Windward of California in January – they will claim their first national title.
And they will have the bruises to show for it.
* * * * *
Across the country, Norcross (Ga.)
proved it deserved its national ranking despite two losses by beating Spring Valley (Columbia, S.C.)
, 54-53, in the championship of the Crescent Bank Holiday Invitational in South Carolina. Diamond Deshields
scored 19 of her 27 points in the second half, and dribbled out the clock as the Lady Blues rallied from an 11-point deficit to beat the previously-No. 7 Vikings.
* * * * * *
In the second bracket at the Nike TOC, La Jolla Country Day (Calif.)
very likely pushed its way into the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Girls Basketball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard
with an impressive 58-44 win over the Academy of the Holy Cross of Maryland.Malina Hood
had 21 points as the Torreys took a 13-12 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. Kelsey Plum
added 16 for the winners.