St. Frances rallies past Mount St. Joseph for BCL XLVII tourney crown; Baldwin named MVP

by Derek Toney

After losing last week in the MIAA A Conference Tournament semifinals as the top-seed and No. 1 team, St. Frances Academy boys’ basketball team viewed the 47th Baltimore Catholic League Tournament as redemption. Trailing by double-digits in the second half of Sunday’s BCL final against Mount St. Joseph, the Panthers – dominating for the nearly the entire regular season – were headed for another postseason dud.

But this wasn’t the St. Frances that’s been long on talent and woefully short on results the last several seasons. The Panthers stayed resolute and the Brother D. John Smith Trophy is back on East Chase Street.

No. 3 St. Frances defeated fourth-ranked Mount St. Joseph, 52-50, in front of more than 1,500 at Goucher College. Sophomore point guard Adrian Baldwin scored 13 points for the Panthers (35-5 overall), and Elijah Epps and Jordan Toles each finished with 12.

The east Baltimore school climbed out of a 12-point hole over the final 11 minutes of regulation to claim its first BCL crown since 2009. St. Frances, which played its first varsity season as a BCL member in the 1988-89 season (officially joined BCL in 1986-87 and competed on junior varsity for two-year probationary period), now has a record eight tournament championships.

It was the Brother D. John Smith Trophy or bust for St. Frances.

“We were so mad, we didn’t want to come to school or practice,” said Epps, whose team was upset by Boys’ Latin in the MIAA A semifinals a couple of weeks ago. “I sent a text to everybody, ‘We’re going to win the BCL. Be ready to practice Tuesday and ready to work.'”

Epps, the Panthers’ senior captain, hit a 3-pointer, bringing the Panthers, who trailed 34-22, to 36-29 after three quarters. The last eight minutes belonged to Baldwin.

The 6-foot floor leader continued his meteoric ascension into the area’s elite, scoring 11 points in final quarter. His 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 20 seconds left in regulation gave St. Frances a 43-42 lead, its first since the middle of the opening quarter.

“We just needed to play defense and keep fighting,” said Baldwin. “We just needed to be patient on offense.”

“We put the ball in his hands and told him to win us this championship and that’s exactly what he did,” said St. Frances coach Nick Myles.

Baldwin added a 3-point play as the Panthers ran off 12 straight points for a 50-42 advantage with 33 seconds remaining in regulation, but Mount St. Joseph, the defending BCL tourney champs, didn’t go away. The Gaels made it one possession game, 51-48, after three free throws from James Bishop with 14.8 seconds to play.

Senior Edward Ferguson’s free throw with seven seconds left put St. Frances up four, before Jalen Smith’s follow up made it 52-50 with 0.5 seconds left. Ferguson captured Epps’ inbound pass and the Panthers’ BCL tournament title drought was over.

Myles, who earned his first BCL Coach of the Year honor, was immediately doused with water. St. Frances, which only lost one game in BCL play, had to sweat it out in its penultimate match this season.

After an impressive start 25-5 start against top-ranked John Carroll in Saturday’s semifinals, the Panthers scored the first seven points Sunday, but Mount St. Joseph answered with 11 straight and built a 25-18 halftime advantage.

The Irvington school constructed a 30-20 advantage early in the third. Jalen Smith, the BCL Player of the Year and McDonald’s All-American went down hard to the floor with five minutes left in the third after Bishop missed a jumper.

Smith, in excruitating pain, left the floor with 4:51 remaining in the quarter. The Gaels were galvanized without their 6-foot-10 post, building their margin to 34-22 with 3:06 after a basket from Tim McDonald.

Smith reentered the game with 6:37 left in regulation with the iconic “Rocky” theme glaring over the Goucher public address system.

The Panthers, however, were mounting a comeback of their own.

“It was defense and rebounding,” said Epps. “Taking plays one-by-one and being smart about it.”

Bishop led Mount St. Joseph with 17 points, and Jalen Smith, who will play for the University of Maryland next season, finished with 16. The Gaels, who were denied their eighth BCL tourney crown, only had two field goals in the final quarter until Tyree Myers’ 3-pointer and Smith’s putback in final 22 seconds.

“Once I went down, my team still played hard,” said Jalen Smith. “We just couldn’t finish in the end.”

St. Frances knew its 30-plus wins and impressive regular season would ring hollow if it didn’t post this weekend.

“I’m so proud of my guys. It was a group effort,” said Myles, who joined legendary Panthers coach William Wells (six) and BCL Hall of Fame Player Mark Karcher to win a BCL crown with St. Frances. “I don’t think we played our best game today, but we figured out a way.”

47th Baltimore Catholic League Tournament Championship

at Goucher College

No. 3 St. Frances Academy 52, No. 4 Mount St. Joseph 50

Mount St. Joseph – Myers 9, Bishop 17, J. Smith 16, McMillan 2, McDonald 6. Totals 18 12-18 50.

St. Frances – Baldwin 13, Epps 12, Diop 2, Jones 7, Moore 4, Toles 12, Ferguson 2. Totals 19 13-19 52.

Mount St. Joseph 14 11 11 14 – 50

St. Frances 10 8 11 23 – 52