Seven months away from the court spent rehabbing an injury, can make a young man who loves basketball quite hungry.

St. Paul’s School senior Michael Ward, who had his 2015-16 season cut short by an ACL tear, returned this winter to lead the 19th-ranked Crusaders and that leadership led all the way to the MIAA B Conference basketball championship.

Ward opened Tuesday’s title game at Stevenson University with a three-point jumper and his Crusaders never trailed on their way to a 59-47 victory over No. 17 Annapolis Area Christian School.

It was St. Paul’s third league title under head coach Seth Goldberg, all since 2010, and the school’s sixth overall.  Annapolis Area Christian was playing in the league final for a third straight year, but the Eagles are still searching for their first title.

Sophomore Ziggy Reid paced the Crusaders (19-8 overall) with a game-high 19 points, while Ward scored five in a game-opening 7-0 run and finished with 14 points. Both players had five rebounds and combined for five assists.

“It feels so good. Seven months without playing basketball and I came back better than ever,” said Ward. “I just love being with my team. It’s a great group of guys. They supported me all through my recovery and I’m happy to be back with my team.”

Goldberg was not surprised by Ward’s contribution, but he did marvel at how quickly he was able to assume a full load.

“He was incredible,” said Goldberg. “They always say it takes about two years to recover from an ACL. Mike was thrust into playing eight months after coming off an ACL and he came to work every day. We’re very fortunate to have Mike and his leadership, his work ethic, his character.”

St. Paul’s led 19-11 after one quarter and then scored the first eight points of the second quarter to build its biggest lead of the game at 27-11, with less than three minutes to play in the opening half.

Jordan Johnson stepped up for AACS (19-8) in the third quarter, scoring eight points as the Eagles crept within six at 40-34. The Eagles got as close as four points with 4 minutes, 57 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, but the Crusaders scored the next four points and eased away for the win.

Junior AJ Sawyer also played a key role for St. Paul’s, scoring 10 points and handing out eight assists. Kori Rawlings wrapped up an excellent career for Annapolis Area Christian by leading the Eagles with 15 points in the final. AACS also got 11 points from Brandon Joseph and 10 from Johnson.
“AACS is so well coached,” said Goldberg. “Doug does a tremendous job with those guys. We knew they were going to play hard. We knew they were going to make a run. We knew things were going to get tough. That’s what happens in these games, but they hung in there. They stayed together. Guys played the right way. They played with a lot of intensity. We got a lot of tough loose balls. I’m really proud of our guys.”

AACS has been knocking on the door of a B Conference title for three consecutive seasons and the Eagles have applied to enter the A Conference next year.

“We finished the year winning 10 straight games, against a good MIAA B Conference. It could have gone anybody’s way. The last game we lost, prior to this game, was St. Paul’s, so we were looking forward to meeting them again,” said AACS coach Doug Scheidt. “They came out a fair amount more aggressive and had us on our heals. In the second half, we came out like gangbusters. I was really proud of that effort we put forth in that second half. We gave them less opportunities (in the second half), but we still gave them a couple of key offensive boards that really hurt us. We were proud of the effort we put forth, but we still made some errors that really cost us.”

On the move to the A Conference, Scheidt said it is all about striving to be the best.

“We feel like we’re ready and Lord willing we’ll move up to the A Conference. We fair well against A teams. I’m not saying right now we’re at the top of the A, that’s for sure, but we’re always striving to be the best we can for the glory of God and if we can do it in the A Conference, we’re going to try.”

(at Stevenson University)

AACS  11    6  17  13  —  47
SP       19  10  11  19  —  59
Reid 19, Wright 2, Ward 14, Kelly 2, Walker 6, Sawyer 10, Barthelme 6. TOTALS: 24 8-24 59.
Rawlings 15, Borden 2, Williams 4, Johnson 10, Joseph 11, Celcis 5. TOTALS: 18 9-17 47.