Loyola’s late rally trips No. 5 Glenelg Country in MIAA A hoops opener; Smith and Fischer combine for 33 (VIDEO HERE!)

Loyola’s John Dixon (right) guards Noah Charles during the fourth quarter of Friday’s MIAA A Conference basketball contest. The No. 13 Dons ended the game with a 10-0 run to take a 56-50 victory over the fifth-ranked Dragons in Towson.

by Derek Toney

After its finest season in a decade last season, Loyola Blakefield basketball is aiming for an encore this season, despite being hit by graduation.

The early returns are promising. The 13th-ranked Dons defeated No. 5 Glenelg Country School, 56-50, in a MIAA A Conference contest on Jerry Savage Court in Towson. Senior forward Matt Fischer finished with a game-high 17 points for the Dons, and Cameron Smith added 16.

Down in six points with five minutes left in regulation, Loyola scored the final 10 points to move to 4-1 on the young season. The Dons’ only loss came against reigning Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champ Gonzaga College (DC) at the Charm City Classic last weekend at Loyola University.

Last season, Loyola reached the MIAA A postseason for the first time since 2008-09 campaign, beating perennial league stronghold Mount St. Joseph for the first time since 2009 (ended 20-game losing streak to Gaels). The Dons lost to McDonogh School in the opening round of the MIAA A playoffs.

The Dons said goodbye to eight seniors, but this year’s group wants to continue the momentum.

“They have high expectations of themselves, and they want to live by those expectations,” said Loyola coach Josh Davalli.

“We have a whole new team, but the good thing is we’re all friends,” said Smith. “We have good chemistry and know how to work well together.”

Smith was part of the Dons’ effort in the clutch, scoring six points in the final frame. After a block by Fischer, Smith converted off a spin move in the paint, giving Loyola a 52-50 lead with 1 minute, 24 seconds remaining in regulation.

He got to a loose ball off a Glenelg County miss with 33 seconds left. After a couple of Loyola timeouts, John Dixon was fouled and converted two free throws in the double bonus with 20 seconds to play.

Smith intercepted a Dragon pass and went in for an uncontested slam with 13 seconds left, capping the rally. The 6-foot-7 junior had 11 points in the second half.

It was an impressive bounce back for Blakefield after a 32-point loss to Gonzaga last Saturday.

“We had to put a lot of work in to get here,” Smith said. “We had a big week of practice and we just showed our heart out there.”

Trailing 34-26 in the third, Loyola scored 11 straight, capped with Smith’s basket off a feed from Jordan Moore for a 37-34 advantage. Glenelg Country answered, reclaiming the lead, 42-39 after three, on a three-pointer from sophomore wing Noah Batchelor.

The Dragons (1-2) used solid passing to increase the advantage to 48-42 after Jared Robinson’s basket off a Noah Charles feed with 5:15 left in regulation. Another Robinson score, with 2:35 left, put Glenelg Country up 50-46 with 2:35 to play.

But the Dragons couldn’t put Loyola away.

“The first thing at practice I really noticed everybody had a lot of heart and never gave up,” said Moore, who helped Loyola’s rally with a steal and layup, tying the game at 50, in his first game after leading the Dons’ football team. “We weren’t phased and our effort never lacked.”

Robinson finished with 16 points for Glenelg Country, also looking to build on a strong 2018-19 showing. The Dragons are expected to contend for MIAA A postseason after winning the Maryland Independent Schools Tournament crown last winter.

“The chemistry on our team is great — it’s a mix of old and new,” said Dragons’ third-year coach Garrett O’Donnell, whose team went one of four from the free throw line, compared to 18-of-23 for Loyola. “It’s a fun group and there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, so we just got to ride it out.”

Davalli admitted he was “curious” how his team would respond in its first MIAA A league match.

Cam Smith was clutch in the fourth quarter for Loyola. The 6-foot-7 junior scored six of his 16 points in the fourth, including the lead basket with 84 seconds left in regulation.

Fair to say, he was pleased.

“It’s one game in the grand scheme of things,” said Davalli, “but I think it shows we have something good here.”

No. 13 Loyola Blakefield 56, No. 5 Glenelg Country School 50

Glenelg Country – Robinson 16, Batchelor 9, Yoka-Bratasz 9, Brathwaite 8, Ejindu 2, Paar 2, Sween 2. Totals 20 1-4 50.

Loyola – Fischer 17, Smith 16, Dixon 7, Moore 7, Johnson 4, Gardner 2, Walsh 2, Georgelis 1. Totals 18 18-23 56.

Glenelg Country 9 16 17 8 – 50

Loyola 11 12 16 17 – 56