Catholic used a zone defense to hold St. Francis (Pa.) to one field goal in the final 9 1/2 minutes and won its first game of the year, 57-54, before 1,200 at Brookland Gymnasium last night.

The Red Flash, depending on the outside shooting of Anthony Washington (13 points) and Bob Convey (15) led most of the game. Back-to-back baskets by Convey and Jon Schoen gave St. Francis (1-2) the lead 51-47. But the visitors could not score again in the ECAS Southern Division game until Washington made one of two free throws with eight seconds left.

The missed 19 straight shots.

Catholic didn't exactly set the nets on fire either. A 10-footer by Donnie Farrell and a 15-footer by Mike Neville pulled the Cardinals even at 51 with 3:38 to play. Neville, who finished with 12 points, dropped in two free throws to give Catholic the lead for good with 3:05 to play.

"Two of our guys were playing man-to-man, the other three were playing zone. I think," said Catholic Coach Jack Kvancz. "I'm not sure we knew what we were doing."

St. Frances certainly didn't. On five straight trips down court, the Red Flash guards threw the ball away.

"It was incredible," mumbled St. Francis Coach David Magrity. "Incredible."

After Convey missed with 2:20 to play, Catholic went to its freeze offense. Forty seconds later, Farrell was called for traveling. But Convey missed again and Catholic got the rebound. Joe Colletta sank a pair of free throws to cushion the Cards' lead, 55-51 with 1:15 left.

In between St. Francis' errors, Catholic missed opportunities to put the game on ice by twice in a row blowing the first shots in one-in-one foul situations and losing the ball twice.

"We make our free throws, we're ahead by eight or 10," said Kvancz "But our kids played hard."

After St. Francis' 17th turnover, Colletta, who led all scorers with 20 points, streaked in for a layup and the Cardinals had victory No. 1.