GREENVILLE — Saint Mark’s and Smyrna went back and forth in their girls basketball season opener on Nov. 30, with the final lead change coming early in the fourth quarter as the Spartans opened the Val Karch coaching era with a 55-51 win over the Eagles. The game marked the opening of the Tiger Tip-Off, and Saint Mark’s advanced to the championship game on Saturday at A.I. DuPont High School.
The Spartans entered the fourth quarter with a 39-36 lead, but Smyrna began the stanza on a 6-2 run, taking the lead when Kai Burnette intercepted a Spartans pass and went to the hoop for a runner.
With the score tied at 44, Spartans senior Lauren McDonald laid one off the glass to give her team the lead for good. Sophia Karch scored off an inbounds pass to double the lead to four, and after the Eagles answered, Sophia Baffone connected on a traditional three-point play to extend the lead to five.
It was beginning to look safe for the Spartans, but Burnette hit a corner three with 1:17 to go to cut the Saint Mark’s lead to 51-49. Karch hit two free throws, but Burnette drained a runner with time running low. Hailey Short went to the free throw line with 4.4 seconds to go with a chance to ice the game, and the senior calmly hit both for the final margin.
First-game jitters appeared to affect both teams early, with an inordinate number of turnovers in the opening quarter. The Spartans did have a 6-0 run after Smyrna made the first field goal, but the Eagles roared back with nine straight of their own, a run ended by a Karch jumper with a minute to go in the first.
Saint Mark’s enjoyed its highest scoring output for a quarter in the second as they opened up a five-point halftime advantage. Baffone, after a scoreless first quarter, found her touch, going for nine in the second, including the team’s first three-pointer of the season, one that was followed by McDonald from distance. Many of the Spartans’ opportunities were created by their hounding defense.
The Eagles clawed their way back in the third quarter, tying the score at 32 on a follow shot by Skylar Curley. They held a pair of two-point leads before Leah DePaul sent the Spartans into the fourth quarter with a 37-34 lead on a corner three with 55 seconds to go in the quarter.
Baffone had 17 to lead the Spartans, while McDonald added 16, and Karch had 12. Short and DePaul each scored five. The Spartans (1-0) will play A.I. DuPont on Saturday at a time to be announced.
Amiyah Ellerbe had 17 for the Eagles. She was joined in double figures by Curley (13) and Talaney Pierce (10). Smyrna is 0-1 and will meet St. Georges at A.I. on Saturday at a time to be announced.
All photos by Mike Lang.