By Derek Toney
As the Seton Keough girls' basketball team walked to midcourt Feb. 19 at Villa Julie College after the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference tournament finals, its throng of supporters came to their feet and clapped before chanting "Seton Keough," for several seconds.
For 64 minutes last weekend, the Gators' faithful had plenty to cheer about before they fell, 42-31, to St. Frances Academy.
Although the coveted IAAM A championship glass bowl didn't return to Caton Avenue, Seton Keough knows a window of opportunity for its arrival is in the foreseeable future.
"We're young. All the freshmen here last year, now they're sophomores. So they're a little more experienced," said Gator senior forward Haliena Snowden. "One of our goals was to make it to the championship and win it. It was good for us to get here."
Though Snowden and Lacey Jennings tasted disappointment in their final game in a Seton Keough uniform, they bridged the gap this season for underclassmen Brittany Williams, Asia Bussie (10 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks) and Arika Ullman to anchor the program the next couple of winters.
"We accomplished a lot this year, we've been through a lot of adversity," said Williams, a sophomore point guard. "A lot of people didn't think we were going to make it."
Most thought the IAAM A finale would come down to Towson Catholic and St. Frances, regarded as the area's top two teams.
The Gators (23-5) assumed their role of "tournament crashers," dispatching regular-season champ Towson Catholic in a stunning, 24-point upset on the Owls' home court in the semifinals.
"I think we shocked everybody but ourselves. We knew we could do it from the beginning," Snowden said. "The first time we won by three and the second time we lost by 13, but we kept reminding ourselves that B.J. [Williams] got sick at halftime."
Defeating the league's dominant force in St. Frances (24-3) was a different story. The Panthers, who claimed their fourth straight championship, sent the Gators reeling before the crowd got comfortable.
"I felt today we didn't know what to expect," said Seton Keough Coach Jackie Boswell. "I think they knew what they wanted out of the T.C. game, and wanted to win today. Mentally, we came out of it pretty early, and it was tough getting it back."
Seton Keough was in catch-up mode the entire game and trailed by double-digits for most of the second half. The Gators had a glimmer of hope when Williams scored with 3:18 remaining in regulation, bringing the margin under 10 to 38-29.
After a St. Frances timeout, Dawnae Roberts hit a short baseline jumper to extend the Panthers' lead to 11. The Gators were back within nine with 85 seconds left, only to see Roberts (game-high 14 points) score on the ensuing possession.
Hoping to haul in the IAAM title for the first time since the 1999-2000 season, Seton Keough admitted it couldn't match the Panthers' championship mettle.
The Gators are banking that the experience will serve them well in the immediate future. That includes Williams, who was selected along with Snowden to the league's all-star team.
Seton Keough, which returns 10 players next season, is always thinking about returning to Villa Julie.
"We'll do fine," said Williams, standing in the lobby outside Villa Julie's gym. "Hopefully, we'll be back here, and, hopefully, we can beat St. Frances."