No. 1 St. John’s over the weekend took home its third consecutive Bishop Walsh Girls Invitational tournament championship, no easy task given the competition and where the event falls on the calendar.
The Cadets won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship Feb. 26 and then were idle until knocking off the host team Thursday, IAAM-A runner-up McDonogh Friday and then-No. 2 Spalding Saturday, all in Cumberland, Md.
Senior forward Tori Oliver, the tournament most valuable player, led St. John’s with 18 points and 12 rebounds in the 54-44 championship win over Spalding, a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup with a Washington-Baltimore flavor.
“It can be a very difficult tournament to get motivated to play just because it’s such a grind in the regular season with the WCAC,” St. John’s Coach Jonathan Scribner said. “Whether we win [the WCAC final] like we did this year, or lose it like we did last year, it’s such an emotional ending when that tournament is over. We definitely historically have had some flat games [at Bishop Walsh]. It was a great end to an amazing season.”
With the WCAC not playing in a City Title Game this season, the Bishop Walsh final might have taken on extra meaning. Spalding (29-2) could have wrested the top spot in the rankings from St. John’s (33-1). The Cavaliers led 20-17 at the half and 36-34 entering the fourth quarter.
“[Saturday was] the only time we mentioned that there was no City Title Game,” Scribner said. “We said, ‘Look, this is our City Title. Let’s get it done.’ ”
“We’ve managed to do well in second halves this season and sort of outlast and bide our time for a little run. We got a three- to five-point separation and some foul shots went in rather than out.”
The Cadets had missed nine of 13 free-throw attempts in the first half, including three front ends of one-and-ones. Columbia recruit Oliver was the only Cadet to score in double figures.
“She's just a matchup nightmare,” Scribner said. “She’s too big for any guard to stop and too quick for any big to stop. She really took the championship game on her shoulders.”
Spann poured in 65 points in the three games, a win over Seton Keough, a loss to Spalding and a win over McDonogh in the third-place game. Sophomore forward Nicole Enabosi also made the all-tournament team for the fourth-ranked Falcons.
It was a career-capping honor for Spann, a Penn State signee who missed the first 11 games this season with a foot injury. It was a career-budding honor for the 6-foot-1 Enabosi, who missed last season with a knee injury.
“She’s got all the tools to really become a great player,” Good Counsel Coach Tom Splaine said. “She was really pretty new to basketball and had only played organized basketball for two years or so before [high school]. Now it’s a matter of her just getting experience, so for her to really emerge in this tournament was really neat. She had some stretches in games where she was able to dominate on both ends for possessions at a time. It was like a natural baton passing from [Amanda Fioravanti] to Nicole.”
Fioravanti missed the first two games at Bishop Walsh with a lingering hand injury but scored 14 points off the bench in the final.
The pleasant process of watching George Mason develop during the season — the Mustangs lost four starters off the 2012 Virginia A Division 2 championship team — made the 78-67 semifinal loss Friday to Floyd County all the more difficult.
It marked the sixth straight semifinal appearance for George Mason, which had won three of the previous four state titles.
“This one hurts, because this team came together at the beginning of the season, and we weren’t much of a team, depending on one player,” Mustangs Coach LaBryan Thomas said, referring to senior forward Stephanie Cheney, who had 33 points and 16 rebounds in the final.
“For this group of young ladies to turn around and do the things they did during the course of the year . . . from a rebuilding stage to come out and make it back to the semifinals in the state, I’m proud of them.”
Sophomore forward Katie Goodwin, who had 20 points and eight rebounds in the final, will be the main Mustang charged with leading George Mason (25-6) to a seventh consecutive berth in the semifinals next season at the Siegel Center in Richmond. Will that happen?
“Absolutely,” Goodwin said.
“Knock on wood on that,” Thomas said with a laugh, rapping the table with his knuckles.