At no point during the IAAM A Conference final against McDonogh on February 17 were the Archbishop Spalding girls’ basketball players collectively firing on all cylinders, showing the dominance befitting their 26-1 record.
But at all points, there was at least one player they could count on.
There was senior guard Torri Chestnut, scoring nine of her 12 points in the first half to keep Spalding always one step ahead of the Eagles.
There was senior Camille Calhoun, struggling through a woeful offensive night but making a big impact defensively and on the glass.
There was senior reserve Alex Puller, diving on the floor for loose balls, nabbing two steals and draining a deep three-pointer to keep the Cavaliers chugging along in the second quarter.
There was senior forward Sierra Clark, making every defensive rotation, blocking a shot, rebounding and making free throws.
There was sophomore Myka Johnson-Matthews, coming off the bench to kill McDonogh’s momentum by smoothly swishing three jump shots in the second half.
There was senior Jade Scaife, persevering through early foul trouble before kicking into gear for 12 of her game-high 16 points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter.
There was senior point guard Aleah Epps, tightening the vice on McDonogh with two steals, eight points and three assists in the decisive final period.
And there was the Spalding girls’ basketball team, embracing at center court at Goucher College, celebrating a hard-earned 55-46 victory and standing alone as champions of the IAAM A Conference.
“What got us here? Team play. Somebody stepping up,” described Head Coach Bookie Rosemond, who went on to list his players individually, citing their contributions in the game and throughout the season. “It’s such a great group because they don’t care who gets the points, who gets the glory. They just want to get that W.”
The W they wanted most, the 27th of their championship season, was a long time coming. As Rosemond was sure to point out, the Cavaliers “had to live with a big monkey on our back for a year” since falling to McDonogh in last year’s IAAM final, but they remained focused throughout the long journey.
“Our girls never lost focus,” he said. “Every practice, every game. ‘Let’s win the next game. Let’s not look ahead’… Today, our seniors willed us to victory. They just played with that determination and belief that ‘we’re going to win this ball game.’ I’m proud of them.”
It was a game played admirably by both sides, and the Cavaliers needed to come through in the clutch to knock the Eagles from their throne. With Spalding leading 11-10 after one quarter of play, McDonogh started the second on an 8-0 run. That’s when Chestnut and Puller sparked the Cavs, each hitting a three-pointer and recovering loose balls during a 12-3 run that allowed Spalding to take a 23-21 lead into halftime. Epps was big in the quarter as well, notching a steal and a coast-to-coast finish that reclaimed the lead at 19-18 for Spalding.
With Scaife and Calhoun—Spalding’s two double-digit scorers throughout the season—each yet to break out offensively, the Cavaliers maintained composure as McDonogh tried to mount a second-half comeback. Chestnut nailed a three-pointer to open the third quarter, and Epps gave the Cavs a 32-27 lead with a three-pointer of her own late in the period. Spalding held a 32-31 lead heading into the fourth.
The mood got a little tense in the fourth quarter when McDonogh surged ahead 39-35 with 5:10 to play on a three-pointer by Danielle Edwards and a bucket plus the foul by Brianna Jacobs.
The Cavaliers, however, didn’t waver. Scaife sank two free throws on Spalding’s next possession, and Epps hit a huge three-pointer the next trip down to put the Cavs back ahead 40-39 with 4:20 remaining.
Defensive stands by Spalding on McDonogh’s next three possessions all had the same result: a stop, a Cavs rebound, a quick outlet pass to Epps, a blazing push up the floor and an assist to Scaife for a basket. On the third of the three baskets, Scaife rebounded her own miss, went back up hard, sank the shot and drew the foul, the Spalding fans exploding in applause in the stands. She made the free throw, and Spalding was on a 12-0 run and led 47-39 with 2:31 to play.
“We attacked the boards better, got a lot of second-chance shots, and we defended much better [in the second half],” Scaife said. “As a whole I just feel like we picked it up and produced well.”
McDonogh got as close as 47-42 on Dajah Logan’s bucket with 1:21 to play, but Calhoun, Clark, Scaife and Epps all rebounded and sank their foul shots to run the clock and put the game away. Calhoun and Scaife both finished with a game-high ten rebounds, and Epps finished with 10 points, three assists and three steals – with two steals and the clutch trey coming in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got everybody out there working hard, and I knew when I come in there I just play my role,” said Epps. “This feeling is amazing because we worked hard. We worked hard at practice every day. We’re in the gym all the time, and now we finally got what we worked for, and it feels good.”
For the seniors, it was the 98th varsity win of their four-year careers, and they went on to claim wins number 99 and 100 at the Bishop Walsh Invitational tournament in early March, where they reached the final before falling to St. John’s of Washington, D.C., 54-44.
“They’ve just been a great group,” praised Rosemond. “Great kids, fun to be around, coachable, no egos. We couldn’t ask for a better group.”