St. Mary’s coach Leo Latonick thought it was optimistic to think his team had stopped playing messily by halftime.
He knew it was an extreme possibility. With star sophomore Bailey Harris still sidelined with a high ankle sprain, the Saints struggled to win close games against evenly matched opponents and fell by double-digits to others.
The first public school St. Mary’s met this winter, Broadneck, turned out to be a lot closer than they anticipated.
The Bruins sent a message across the county by nearly overcoming the defending Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference champions in a 45-39 tussle that featured 15 lead changes.
“I think we came in and we didn’t give them 100%. The first two quarters were sloppy. No one was in the right positions and the passes were bad,” said St. Mary’s senior Baily Walden, who had 11 points. “After that, we said in the locker room someone had to step up.”
There’s little upside to missing Harris right now, especially as St. Mary’s (4-2) played its third game in six days. But Latonick feels it does exist in a small way. Multiple players must step in to fill her shoes, meaning they’re getting seasoning they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
“Me and [sophomore Alex Vandiver], we weren’t stepping up, but we told them this is their opportunity. People that weren’t getting a lot of playing time could step up,” Walden said. “And I think a lot of the girls did.”
Broadneck guard Mackenzie Wharton (nine points) flashed her perimeter skill immediately while junior London Best (13 points) hit plays in the paint. But turnovers, shot clock violations and travels marred what could’ve been Broadneck’s chance to firmly overtake the Saints in the first quarter. But St. Mary’s couldn’t exactly leave the Bruins behind, either.
Mostly Walden’s free throws and Vandiver’s shooting afforded St. Mary’s a 13-10 margin after one quarter, one they did not exactly generously pad before halftime. The Saints overthrew passes; they struggled holding on to the ball. As the final minutes ticked off the clock, the Bruins started ripping the ball away from St. Mary’s ball handlers like the best-cooked pork rib falls off a bone. Senior forward Samantha Miller followed her steal with a 3-pointer to pull the Bruins within two. Wharton swiped the ball that junior guard Summer Stroop then used for the go-ahead 3.
As the seconds whittled to zero in the first half, Walden gathered a steal but Wharton took it right back. She flashed the pass to Best who secured the 21-20 halftime lead.
Led by senior Mia Novak and Vandiver (19 points), St. Mary’s seemed determined to sharpen its edges out of the break. Broadneck remained as resolved to stop it. The lead swapped six times. The Saints’ hard-nosed guard play gummed up plenty of the offense Broadneck wanted to unleash. The two went tangled at 33 into the final quarter — eight minutes chorused by bodies hitting the court in near-constant desperate struggles to win control over the ball.
“I told the team in the huddle, we need to play for each other. We need fire under us,” Walden said. “I think we got that fire going.”
St. Mary’s found its edge in the frenzy. Vandiver struck first and kept striking, spurring the Saints to a 7-0 run five minutes into the fourth frame. Saints double-teamed Wharton and Miller. Walden took on the dirty work on defense, wrestling balls free even if it meant getting body-slammed.
Walden flipped in a 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer and roared with muscles flexed. Best responded with her own trey, to the shrieks of her teammates.
“I don’t think our offense got any better,” Latonick said. “The second half was still bad. But I think we have kids that can defend, and that’s good. Because that bailed us out.”
The Saints rematch the B Conference runner-up, St. Timothy’s on Friday, while Broadneck travels to Old Mill.