Boys’ Latin takes down No. 1 St. Frances Academy for first MIAA A basketball final berth; Watts hits game-winner (VIDEO HERE!)

Boys’ Latin’s Jaylin Andrews drives as St. Frances’ Adrian Baldwin and Koran Moore (front) defends. Andrews had 16 points as the No. 5 Lakers pulled off a 68-65 upset of the No. 1 Panthers in a MIAA A Conference semifinal match at Phelps Gym in east Baltimore.

by Derek Toney

When Boys’ Latin School basketball joined the MIAA A Conference for basketball three seasons ago, it felt was ready to compete in the area’s premier league. But with the unexpected departure of star Kodye Pugh, the Lakers went through a difficult indoctrination.

Those bumps and bruises gradually healed and Boys’ Latin has shown it belongs. Now, the Lakers are 32 minutes away from a championship.

No. 5 Boys’ Latin defeated top-ranked St. Frances Academy, 68-65, in a MIAA A tourney semifinal at Phelps Gym in east Baltimore. Junior guard Cameron Spencer scored 17 points for the Lakers (25-6 overall), and Jaylin Andrews added 16.

The Lake Avenue school got clutch a 3-pointer from junior guard Cameron Watts to stave off a Panthers’ fourth quarter rally and earn its first MIAA A final. Boys’ Latin will take on No. 3 John Carroll School – a 79-78 overtime winner over second-ranked Mount St. Joseph Thursday – for the title Sunday evening at 5:30 at Harford Community College’s APGFCU Arena.

Considered an underdog, the Lakers were ready for the challenge.

“I think we have the most special group that I’ve ever been around,” said BL coach Cliff Rees. “We might not be the best top-to-bottom but these guys just fight and they love each other and play for each other. We’re far from perfect but they battled ’til the end.”

“We’re used to being the underdogs,” said Watts.

The Lakers got several yeoman efforts to upend St. Frances (32-5), who was the best team during the MIAA A regular season. Junior reserve Dogan Hardway scored 11 points, hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter, helping BL to a halftime advantage. Senior center Chris Bates and forward Kenny Lewis held their own in the paint, with Bates going a perfect 3-for-3 and had a key block late in regulation.

Watts scored 11 points and produced one of the biggest baskets in BL hoops history. With his team down, 65-64, after a St. Frances went on an 8-0 run, Watts got a pass from Hardway behind the 3-point arch.

He took a dribble, stepped to his right and launched a dagger that fell through the cylinder with 26.9 seconds left to play.Watts figured Andrews, BL’s all-time leading scorer, would be blanketed by St. Frances.

It was his first basket since the second quarter.

“I put a lot of time in the gym. My shots haven’t been falling, but I took the shot,” said Watts.

Watts fouled out, going after a loose ball with 17.5 seconds remaining. St. Frances guard Adrian Baldwin missed a runner, got the rebound, but Bates swiped the ball away out of bounds as Baldwin tried to put the ball back up off the glass with 6.6 seconds remaining.

After a St. Frances timeout, Lewis got his hands on the Panthers’ inbounds pass and was fouled with 5.1 seconds to play. Lewis made the front end of an one-and-one and BL called timeout.

Lewis missed the second, and St. Frances center Koran Moore grabbed the rebound and sent an outlet to Baldwin. Baldwin’s 3-point attempt from about 30 feet hit the back iron and the buzzer sounded.

Baldwin, a sophomore guard, finished with 28 points for St. Frances, which scored the first seven points of the second quarter for a 25-18 and appeared on the verge of pulling away. Spencer answered with a 3-pointer and Watts’ follow-up had the Lakers back in it.

“Unfortunately, it’s happened to us a bunch where we have a couple of bad offensive possessions and dig ourselves a hole,” said Rees, whose team battled back from a double-digit deficit against the Panthers before falling, 68-65, last month at the Gelston Center. “What’s so remarkable these guys all year long have fought out of those holes and battled back.”

Boys’ Latin led 39-34 at halftime after Watts got to a loose ball off a Hardway miss and scored. Lewis finished inside, and the Lakers opened up a 46-38 advantage early in the third.

The Lakers had a 64-57 advantage midway in the fourth as Bates, 6-foot-7, drilled a jumper from the free throw line, but St. Frances stormed back.

Baldwin scored off a drive, and Moore followed a block with a score in the paint, bringing St. Frances within 64-63 with 3:26 remaining. The Panthers got their first lead since late in the second as Jordan Toles’ putback made it 65-64 with 1:59 left.

The East Chase Street school got possession with about a minute left, but was whistled for a questionable 10-second call. Watts regained the lead for the Lakers with his 3-pointer.

“Somebody comes through for us. Tonight it’s Cam Watts, Tuesday night, it was Sam Grace, a couple of weeks ago, it was Jake Nichols,” said Rees, whose team eliminated sixth-ranked St. Vincent Pallotti in Tuesday’s quarterfinals. “Somebody makes that big shot that we have and that’s what the group so special.”

St. Frances, which had multiple double-digit scorers in most of its matches this season, only had two as Moore finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.

It was the Panthers’ first home loss.

“I think we panicked a little bit,” said St. Frances coach Nick Myles, whose team was looking for its first MIAA A title since 2016. “That 10 second call was tough. Give Boys’ Latin credit, they played hard and hit shots. It seemed they didn’t miss and when they did, someone was there to get the ball.”

BL, which won the B title in 2014-15, will try to become the first program to win a B and A crown Sunday. The Lakers lost both regular season meetings to John Carroll, 84-62 and 68-55.

Two seasons ago, Boys’ Latin won two league games (nine overall) in its first season in the MIAA A.

“It’s been an incredible journey,” said Andrews, a four-year starter. “These guys hard so fought and deserve to be here.”

Jaylin Andrews (left), Cameron Spencer, Cameron Watts and Dogan Hardway each had key moments for Boys’ Latin Thursday. The No. 5 Lakers will take on No. 3 John Carroll School for the MIAA A title, Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at Harford Community College.

“It’s not necessary about building our basketball program, it’s about representing Boys’ Latin,” said Rees, a Naval Academy graduate who starred alongside Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson on the Midshipmen NCAA Tournament squads of the late 1980s. “All these guys didn’t come to BL for basketball, they came because we’re Boys’ Latin. That’s what these guys embodied.”

MIAA A Conference basketball semifinal

No. 5 Boys’ Latin School 68, No. 1 St. Frances Academy 65

Boys’ Latin – Lewis 7, Watts 11, Hardway 11, Andrews 16, Bates 6, Spencer 17. Totals 24

St. Frances – Baldwin 28, Moore 10, Jones 9, Toles 7, Diop 5, Ferguson 4, Epps 2. Totals 24 13-19 65.

Boys’ Latin 18 21 16 13 – 68

St. Frances 18 16 18 13 – 65