It was Semifinal Saturday in the Baltimore Catholic League Tournament at Goucher College and it was a couple of Mounts that reached the peak, as top-seeded and No. 3 Mount St. Joseph battled past No. 16 St. Frances Academy, 54-51, and fifth-ranked Mount Carmel upended second-seeded St. Maria Goretti, 75-63, in the nightcap.
Less than a week removed from their match-up for the MIAA A Conference title, last Sunday, St. Joe and Mount Carmel will square off at 1 p.m. on Sunday, at Goucher, for the BCL title.
The opener was a typical St. Joe/St. Frances rivalry battle, as the unpredictable Panthers had the Gaels on the ropes right to the final horn.
Junior Jalen Smith scored 20 points for the Gaels (34-3 overall), including a dunk with a 3 minutes, 9 seconds to play, to give his team a 52-49 lead. St. Frances got back within one with a basket from Elijah Epps, who led the Panthers with 15 points, before James Bishop hit a pair of free throws to push the St. Joe lead back to three. The Panthers had two attempts at a potential game-tying three, before Jaden Robinson secured the game’s final rebound and the victory.
“It took a lot of hard work and locking down, making sure we executed on everything we did,” said Smith of the Gaels victory. “It took a lot of focus.”
Darryl Morsell added 13 points for the Gaels, while Robinson, Bishop and Kendall McMillan combined for 21.
St. Joe jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the opening quarter and led by as many as eight, as Morsell scored six in the opening frame. The Panthers, however, closed within four by the time the first quarter ended and forged their first lead, at 23-22, when freshman Jordan Jones scored on back-to-back breakaways.
The lead went back-and-forth a couple of times from there, before the Gaels managed to claim a 29-27 advantage at the half. Smith paced the Gaels with nine first half points, while Epps netted eight for the Panthers.
In addition to Epps’ 15, Earl Penn and freshman Adrian Baldwin scored 10 points each for the Panthers.
According to Smith, St. Joe focused on slowing Baldwin.
“Our main goal was to lock down their point guard Adrian Baldwin,” added Smith. “He’s a good player and he gets most of their points, so if we lock him down, we kind of mess up their function.”
Although St. Frances (16-18) finished with a sub .500 record and missed the MIAA A playoffs for the first time, they continued to play the Gaels tough. This was St. Joe’s second win by just 3-points over the Panthers and they also suffered a 69-67 setback to St. Frances last month, one of only three losses for the Gaels this year.
Goretti, which also defeated St. Joe this year (Calvert Hall was the third team), and finished in a first-place tie for the BCL regular season crown, entered the other semifinal favored to play its way into the final, but Mount Carmel had other ideas.
The Cougars (27-9) opened the fourth quarter on an 8-2 run to build a 58-51 lead with 4 minutes, 35 seconds to play and closed out Goretti (27-7) with clutch free throw shooting down the stretch.
The Cougars drained 13-of-17 free throws in the final quarter, including 9-of-10 by senior star Terry Nolan, Jr., who led Mount Carmel with a game-high 21 points.
“We knew down the stretch we had to hit free throws and my teammates trusted me to make a free throw,” said Nolan, who will play next year at Tennessee Chattanooga. “They made it a priority to get the ball in my hands. I knew I had to make it to put the game away.”
Mount Carmel was hot early, coming out of the gate with a 13-3 lead midway through the opening quarter, but Goretti closed the quarter on a 15-5 run to carry an 18-17 lead into the first break.
In the second quarter, the Gaels led by as many as four points on three different occasions but needed a three-pointer from Jake Kuhn, with 1.3 second to play in the half, to take a 37-35 advantage to the locker room.
Mount Carmel scored the first six points of the second half to surge in front, 41-37 and led by six with 3:13 remaining in the quarter. But Goretti got hot late in the period, pulling within one, at 50-49, at the quarter’s close.
Junior Jordan Jones and senior Christian Evans each scored 14 points each to backup Nolan’s effort, while sophomore Will Thomas chipped in with 10 key points and Brandon Watson had nine.
Goretti senior star Elijah Clarance, who will take his silky smooth game to Illinois State next year, led the Gaels with 19 points. Junior Amir Harris netted 14 for the Gaels and Kuhn closed his career with 12 points. In addition, sophomore RJ Blakney and junior Josh Mack combined for 15 points.
As far as the matchup with St. Joe, Nolan said his team will be ready.
“This will be a competitive game,” Nolan said. “We want this win as bad as we do and I think we’ll come out and get it.”
BALTIMORE CATHOLIC LEAGUE TOURNAMENT SEMIFINALS
at Goucher College
NO. 3 MOUNT ST. JOSEPH 54, NO. 16 ST. FRANCES 51
SF 12 15 10 14 — 51
MSJ 16 14 13 11 — 54
ST. FRANCES: Baldwin 10, Epps 15, Sydnore 2, E. Penn 10, V. Penn 2, Toles 7. TOTALS: 19 12-19 51
MOUNT ST. JOSEPH: Bishop 8, Morsell 11, McMillan 6, Smith 20, Robinson 7. TOTALS: 20 12-20 54.
NO. 5 MOUNT CARMEL 75, ST. MARIA GORETTI 63
MC 17 18 15 25 — 75
SMG 18 19 12 14 — 63
MOUNT CARMEL: Felton 2, Watson 9, Evans 14, Nolan 21, Jones 14, Thomas 10, Miller 5. TOTALS: 26 17-14 75.
ST. MARIA GORETTI: Shives 3, Mack 7, Kuhn 12, Clarance 19, Harris 14, Blakney 8. TOTALS: 24 9-14 63.