MILLTOWN — Saint Mark’s girls basketball team fell behind Dover, 4-0, early in the first round of the DIAA state basketball tournament, but the 14th-seeded Spartans used stellar defense to stifle the No. 19 Senators in a 37-13 victory at Tom Rosa Court on March 1.
Neither team could get much going offensively early, but Dover grabbed the four-point lead on a follow shot by Sara Benson, then two Benson free throws nearly five minutes into the first quarter.
The Spartans finally got on the board with 2:35 to go when Reyyanah Johnson got open underneath, and Sophia Baffone gave the crowd a peek at her evening the next time down, draining a corner three to put Saint Mark’s on top to stay. That defense showed itself on the ensuing inbounds, with Lauren McDonald grabbing the pass under the hoop and laying it in.
Baffone struck again at the end of the quarter, nailing an NBA-range three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to increase the Saint Mark’s lead to 11-6. The shot seemed to give the Spartans a shot of adrenalin heading into the second.
“I just looked up at the clock, and I saw the time ticking down,” Baffone said. “I just let it fly. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Saint Mark’s held the Senators without a field goal for the entirety of the second quarter; the visitors’ only points came on a pair of Benson free throws with 1:16 remaining. In the meantime, the Spartans built on their lead, eventually putting together a 14-0 run covering parts of the first and second quarters.
Saint Mark’s got a boost from the return of Bella Prado. The senior forward missed some time with an ankle injury, but she returned against Dover and made her presence known. She took a pass from Keira Benoit and banked in a shot while being fouled with 5:16 to go, turning that into a three-point play. Prado then went off glass again to push the Spartans’ lead to 10.
Defensively, the Spartans wreaked havoc on the Senators. They forced several turnovers, preventing Dover from denting the lead. Baffone added to the Saint Mark’s advantage with another three, and then she turned a steal into a picture-perfect give-and-go with Hailey Short. The lead was 15 at the break.
“We really worked on defense the past four days. We knew Dover probably hadn’t played a team with our defense, and we had to come out and play our defense,” Baffone said.
The Senators scored the first four points of the third, but Baffone struck again from distance to offset that, again taking advantage of a steal, this time by Benoit. Dover added a free throw, but the Spartans scored the final 11 points of the night, including all six in the fourth.
Baffone led the way with 15 points, with McDonald and Prado adding 7 each. The Spartans improved to 14-7 and will battle No. 3 Cape Henlopen on Friday at 7 p.m. at Sussex Tech.
For the Senators, Benson scored 8. Dover finished the season 9-12.
All photos by Mike Lang.