With its season on the line during Tuesday’s playoff game, St. John’s Catholic Prep’s girls basketball team looked poised to complete its comeback against Roland Park Country School.
The Vikings only trailed by three points when they inbounded the ball in their backcourt with about 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
But as if on cue, Reds senior Mir McLean sprang into action. The high-jumping, 5-foot-11 senior — who has committed to UConn — stole the inbounds pass near her own basket, made a layup while getting fouled and hit the ensuing free throw.
Unleashing a roar after her bucket, McLean made it clear the Reds had no intention of losing their lead against a Vikings team that swept them during the regular season.
McLean scored the final of her game-high 28 points on a pair of free throws with 12.4 seconds left, helping the Reds hold on for an intense 56-54 win over the host Vikings in the IAAM A Conference quarterfinals.
McLean’s final free throws gave the Reds a 56-52 lead. Needing a rare four-point play to tie, the Vikings missed a jumper before Sarah Yoda grabbed the board and hit a putback just before the final buzzer.
St. John’s stormed back into the game despite trailing 50-39 after Roland Park’s Sophia Diehl hit a 3-pointer with 2:05 left in the fourth quarter.
“We’re all pretty sad, but we all fought back as hard as we could,” said Vikings senior Kayla Cooper, who scored seven of her 17 points during the final two minutes.
St. John’s was forced to fight back after Roland Park took a 24-15 lead into halftime and built a double-digit lead by the fourth quarter. The deficits the Vikings faced had McLean’s fingerprints all over them.
“We had like an extra chip on our shoulder because we did lose twice [to St. John’s],” said McLean, who missed one of those games against the Vikings because of a family emergency. “So we had nothing to lose, and we just trusted each other.
Demonstrating her excellent body control, McLean hit several acrobatic, twisting layups, including a couple on inbounds plays, despite being double-teamed when she got the ball.
“It’s hard when you know that the defensive scheme for the other team is to stop No. 1,” said Roland Park coach Dani Steinbach, referring to McLean’s jersey number. “And time and time again, she rises to the challenge and she finds a way to score.”
Known for scoring the bulk of her points on putbacks in the past because she’s so hard to box out, McLean has found several other ways to score. She hit a 3-pointer on Tuesday and ended up shooting 10-of-14 from the field.
She’s still a menace on the boards, grabbing 18 rebounds on Tuesday. Plus, she looks for open teammates when drawing double-teams, and she had four assists against the Vikings.
Cooper was one of several Vikings who took turns guarding McLean on Tuesday.
“She’s a real athletic player. She’s really fast off the bounce,” Cooper said. “But we’ve just got to be disciplined and keep our hands straight up and don’t foul her and just play good defense.”
Honored during a pregame ceremony for scoring her 1,000th career point, Cooper helped the Vikings storm back into what turned out to be the final game of her stellar career. Aside from her 17 points, she had eight rebounds, four steals and four blocks.
During the final two minutes, Cooper hit a 3-pointer and a pair of layups, the last one narrowing Roland Park’s lead to 54-52 with 15.8 seconds left. Her ability to get layups showed how much had changed since the first half, when the Reds did a good job of preventing the Vikings from getting decent looks inside the paint.
St. John’s coach Maddie McConnell praised Cooper, especially for how she battled back from a pair of ACL injuries earlier in her career.
“I’m going to miss her. I’m going to, like, have to get a sled to go up to Albany and visit her,” McConnell said of the University of Albany-bound player. “Obviously a tremendous player, just irreplaceable for us. But I’m going to have to try to replace her.”
St. John’s will also lose senior Lindsay Thweatt, who had 14 points on Tuesday, and Yoda, who had seven rebounds. But they’ll return sophomore Jalyn McNeil, who tied for a team high with 17 points.
“I’m proud of them, I’m proud of the season they’ve had,” said McConnell, whose team was playing its second season in the IAAM A Conference. “A lot of people didn’t even think to look at us on their schedule this year.”